Do you want to learn more about psychedelic research?
See below for a list of academic programs that may support psychedelic research as well as resources for hosting a MAPS-related event on your campus.
We encourage students to join or start a chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP). SSDP is the leading student organization working to reform drug laws and to educate each other and society on the realities of drugs. An SSDP chapter is a good platform for hosting a MAPS–related event on campus.
We recommend that psychology students familiarize themselves with the field of Transpersonal Psychology, since psychedelic therapy contributed to the founding of this field.
For students of chemistry, biology, and other physical sciences, medicinal chemist David Nichols, Ph.D., provides insight below.
Psychedelic Resources For Students
Academic Programs and Institutions
MAPS has compiled this list of courses, programs, and institutions that offer education in areas involving psychology, psychedelics, transpersonal studies, etc.
The University of Kent Psychedelics Society hosts lectures from a diverse and multidisciplinary collection of speakers including anthropologists, musicians, psychiatrists, criminologists, neuropharmacologists, authors, psychologists, artists, researchers, and ethnobotanists. All presentations are free to attend and open to all, whatever their backgrounds, ideologies and educations. It is not a society that promotes drug use, only a society that promotes learning, for it is no more than a forum for discussion and academic presentation.
With two close friends, I founded the Psychedelics Society last Christmas (2009/10) because I was becoming increasingly aware that there was a vacuum of knowledge that crucially needed filling. I rarely mention psychedelics in conversation, but on the occasions that the subject was raised, or on overhearing discussions on campus, I noticed two common reactions. The first was an instinctive withdrawal, a conditioned stigmatic response of fear or intense scepticism, or sometimes merely apathy. The other was the somewhat hedonistic reaction of the recreational user whose approach to psychedelics was simply to get plastered. I understood these responses, but felt that if both groups of people had greater access to information, their attitudes might become more rounded and less extreme.
I believe that one does not need to have a sympathetic disposition to the use of psychedelics to find interest in many of the lectures that the society hosts. Indeed, psychedelics seem to play the same role in the society as they do in the experiences of their users – they are catalytic aides to the art of discovery. One needs no interest in mysterious botanicals and bottled crystals to appreciate a discussion on the philosophy of personal experience and reality, nor is there a requisite other than an interest in human biochemistry to attend a lecture on neuropharmacology. If you value the work of a psychedelically-inspired artist who visits the University of Kent, there is of course no obligation to be psychedelically-inspired yourself. I think that it is important that the society attracts interest from a greater demographic than purely the ‘psycho-nautical’ community.
People often ask me if it was difficult to set the society up and whether we received much opposition. The answer that we experienced virtually no problems at all often surprises people. I would encourage you, if you are a student in a similar position to me, to consider setting up a society at your school or University. I found very little resistance when I presented the society as an academic, lecture-providing group. You may well find more antagonism if you try to actively promote anything illegal, and I would advise strongly against doing so. The tide of opinion on this subject is changing and these small groups are extremely important, even if they don’t appear so. If you want to make a difference and support the wonderful work that associations such as MAPS are doing, it might be easier than you think.
Evergreen State College: Sacred Psychedelic Science
Nestled above the Puget Sound surrounded by lush woods near Olympia, Washington is The Evergreen State College (TESC). Among the wonderful student groups that TESC sponsors is Sacred Psychedelic Science. We are a group devoted to celebrating the scientific, spiritual, and cultural use of psychedelic substances and the implications therof. By providing students with harm reduction information, exciting opportunities, and most importantly, a community many of us had previously only dreamed of, we have in our first year become an integral part of the school’s culture. This year, TESC paid for eleven students to fly to Psychedelic Science 2013. Along with this, TESC’s unique and acclaimed educational protocols facilitate novel study of psychedelics. Through independent learning contracts, two of our members are earning course credit for studying psychedelics. Please consider joining us if you are serious about psychedelics in your life. If you are looking to do something like this at your school or if you’re simply trying to “find the others,” here we are!!! For many of us, this club is a dream come true, and a key part of integrating our practices.
Looking forward to hearing from you,
Katie Tomlinson, founder and coordinator (email)
How Does One Go About Performing Research with Psychedelics? David Nichols, PhD Answers.
By David E. Nichols, PhD President, Heffter Research Institute
Stated succinctly, you have two broad options: Medicine and Science. Under Medicine, I continue to believe that physicians with a psychiatry residency and research experience will make the greatest contributions to the field of psychedelics. This is a long and difficult row to hoe, however, and few choose it. But this option allows you ultimately to work with humans, where the results are most dramatic and have the greatest impact. Rats cannot tell you if they see the white light!
Under Science, you again have two broad options: Pharmacology and Chemistry (loosely defined). In pharmacology, one might study the behavioral effects (usually in rats) or the neurochemical effects of substances. You could choose a whole animal behavioral approach (e.g. in Dr. Mark Geyer’s lab at UC-San Diego), a systems/neuronal approach (Dr. George Aghajanian at Yale who does unit cell recording... tedious but interesting), or a more molecular approach (e.g. Dr. Elaine Sanders-Bush at Vanderbilt or Dr. Bryan Roth at Case- Western Reserve) that would involve the expression of receptors, structure of receptors, etc. I do some behavioral work at Purdue, but we use behavior more as a screen to guide our chemistry.
In chemistry, my lab at Purdue is, I would argue, the major place (but perhaps I have a bias!). Dr. Richard Glennon at Virginia Commonwealth has done a lot of chemistry of psychedelics but more recently has focused on some other areas. Despite the romance and popularity that attend to natural drugs and herbal remedies, there is no academic department I know of that focuses on the ethno-pharmacology of psychoactive drugs or psychedelics. There is a big natural–products group at the University of Illinois at Chicago, but they are mostly working on anticancer drugs (as, in fact, are most natural–products groups these days).
Getting into this field is extremely difficult and requires a lot of patience. You are swimming upstream because there is no recognized value to these substances at government funding agencies except as drugs of abuse. You have to find some niche to get funded. It is very hard, even for one with a respectable and already-established track record.
You can, however, enter this research with a Ph.D. that has nothing to do with psychedelics at all. My own son just completed a Ph.D. in drosophila genetics. He is now going to do a postdoctoral fellowship in a laboratory studying the molecular regulation of the 5-HT2A receptor, the site with which psychedelics seem to interact. This will take another two to three years. Although I have no idea what he will do after that, he would have the training to enter an academic path and then to study the molecular biology of any brain receptors he chose, including perhaps continuing work on the 5-HT2A receptor. Thus, he could end up doing research on psychedelics, even though he started out with fruit fly genetics.
I think one must have dedication, and motivation must be very strong to begin study for an advanced degree with the ultimate objective of doing psychedelic research. I have had three students who came here with the idea they would work in this area, and none of them have. One is now doing DNA sequencing work, another is a computational chemist, and the third became disillusioned with academic life at a small private college and went into professional pharmacy. Some begin with curiosity as a result of personal experience, but quickly lose interest, get married, have families and revert to more "normal" pursuits once the luster wears off.
You will also find you have no real colleagues. If you were in cancer or HIV research, or were working on the human genome project, for example, you would be part of a large science community, with many colleagues of similar interest. If you do psychedelic research, and that is all you do (I have some other more mainstream research in addition to the psychedelic work), you have perhaps half–a–dozen people world-wide who share your research interests. Perhaps not surprisingly, you may develop a sort of cult following, but that kind of adoration is not particularly fulfilling. People occasionally tell me that my name is known all over the world in the "psychedelic community." While that may be true, it doesn’t get recognition within the scientific community, which is my workplace, comprised of my peers. What you want is recognition from them that you are doing good work. You are unlikely to get it, so your rewards must come from within yourself, and you must believe that someday the value of your work will become clear to other people, because that is unlikely to occur in your own lifetime. It will help if you are the sort of person who can deal easily with delayed gratification.
I know I have painted a fairly unglamorous picture. I have done that because those who begin graduate school with the idea that psychedelic research will be glamorous and fun burn out quickly. You’re simply not going to get the strokes you’d get if you did more mainstream work. If you have long–term vision and believe in what you are doing, it has its rewards. I love my work. My graduate students and I have a lot of fun together. But sometimes it is lonely. I hope that someday things will turn around and someone will be grateful that I did what I did. But I think it takes a particular kind of stoic personality to survive much adversity on the strength of that kind of belief!
If you choose that path, then you are fully informed and you will not be disappointed later when you start encountering the expected obstacles.
So You Want to be a Psychedelic Researcher? R. Andrew Sewell, MD Answers.
With the current renaissance in psychedelic research, after a forty-year moratorium, undergraduates interested in the topic are increasingly starting to ask: How can I get involved? Unfortunately, psychedelics are still heavily stigmatized, and there is as yet no obvious infrastructure into which enthusiasts can channel their energy. There are no psychedelic research graduate programs, no psychedelic student groups, no psychedelic scholarships, and few professors willing to provide mentorship or funding agencies willing to sponsor such research. This leaves undergraduates inspired by psychedelics frustrated and uncertain about what they should be doing in order to most help the cause. Here are some suggestions and guidance for those so perplexed.
First, examine your motives for entering psychedelic research. Is it because psychedelics are novel and cool? If so, you are apt to find psychedelic research disappointing. While Dr. Timothy Leary, perhaps the most famous of the psychedelic researchers, found it a route to enduring fame and hot sex with large numbers of young women, he did this primarily through his showmanship rather than his scientific research. If such a lifestyle is appealing to you, there are shorter routes to this goal than decades of scholarly study.
Or is it because you have had a mystical or life-changing experience on a psychedelic? You do not need to become a psychedelic researcher in order to continue your self-exploration; you do not even need to continue to take psychedelics, as there are many other methods of changing one’s own consciousness, from yoga to meditation to Holotropic Breathwork. Such a path may prove profoundly self-altering; however, it is unlikely to change society.
Or is it because you are frustrated living in a culture that tramples individual freedoms, discourages introspection and insight, substitutes lies and half-truths for genuine science, encourages people to self–censor and conform to that which they know is harmful and wrong, and that you wish instead to change society for the better? You do not need to be a scientific researcher in order to be an activist. Ultimately, scientific research is only useful as a tool in the hands of the activist, for it is the activist who compels society to improve.
Or is it because you are motivated by a genuine curiosity about these peculiar substances, and wish to apply the tools of modern inquiry toward understanding their properties? Perhaps you appreciate that scientists such as Ralph Abraham, Stephen Jay Gould, Carl Sagan, Andrew Weil, and Nobel Prize winners such as Francis Crick, Richard Feynman, and Kary Mullis have found psychedelics valuable tools in formulating their great discoveries, and wonder how this can be so? Maybe you know that the discovery of LSD was what sparked interest in the serotonin system and prompted the explosive growth of modern psychopharmacology that continues today? Possibly you contemplate what other wonders may lie hidden in the closed box of psychedelic science?
And are you willing to accept that your unconventional interests may lead to professional isolation or even ostracism, and that the time-consuming navigation of the layers of red tape endemic to psychedelic research will inevitably slow your publication rate and consequently promotions compared with your peers? And are you aware that the total lack of government or corporate support for such endeavors means that you will never be rich, and you may in fact eventually land in jail on trumped up charges of one sort or another? If such considerations do not trouble you, then read on.
As An Undergraduate Get Your Degree! Lie Low and Infiltrate the System
The undergraduate years are a difficult time for the nascent psychedelic researcher because of the stigma that these drugs still hold. Many undergraduates come to realize that broadcasting their unconventional views at this time could potentially harm their future careers, and thus indirectly harm psychedelic research. Sometimes we have to conform to others’ expectations in order to establish a solid base of credibility, and wait for a time when we can be more independent in our pursuits. The book Why Shrooms Are Good by Joe Schmoe is likely to be ignored; Therapeutic Benefits of Psilocybin by Dr. Joe Schmoe considerably less so, even if both books say exactly the same thing. Incidentally, this was the path I followed; I didn’t breathe a word of my interests until I was already on the faculty of Harvard Medical School. Be warned, however–conformity for too long can corrode the soul. And in retrospect, you are freer as an undergraduate than you may think you are.
Educate Yourself About Psychedelics
Read what scientific literature does exist regarding psychedelics, not just the material that draws popular attention. If possible, take a course in psychedelics. Dr. Stacy B. Schaefer teaches a class on Indigenous People of Latin America at California State University, Chico, dealing in part with the peyote-using Huichol Indians. Dr. Constantino Manuel Torres teaches an Art and Shamanism course at Florida International University, exploring traditional cultures that use psychedelics. Northern Illinois University offers regular courses by Dr. Thomas Roberts. Invite him to be a guest lecturer at your own school! Dr. Roberts writes:
If your department or another would like to offer either course– Foundations of Psychedelic Studies or Entheogens – Sacramentals or Sacrilege? to students (graduate or undergraduate), it might be possible for me to travel every now and then and meet with a class, say over long weekends or for a day or two every couple of weeks. The rest we can do by Internet.
Alternately, design your own independent study course (or courses) for credit in psychedelics. This is the approach MAPS President Rick Doblin took for his undergraduate education at New College of Florida. Use Dr. Robert’s syllabus as a basis. Paul Goodwin is starting a web site aimed at interested students offering links and short descriptions of courses relevant to psychedelic studies. This should be online by the fall of 2006 (http://www.psycomp.org.uk). Keep current with the literature in your area of interest, and start thinking about ideas for your own research project.
Another graduate student writes:
I completed an honors thesis as an undergraduate, which basically was a literature review, and it ended up resulting in my first publication a few years later. It also led up to my masters thesis (a quasi-experimental study) and a few other papers in press. The best thing undergraduates can do to help is to prepare themselves, I believe. Be persistent about being a part of psychedelic research, if that is truly where your heart lies. I may not be able to do exactly what I want right now, but I still can keep it in mind for the future.
“The Implications of Psychedelic Research for XXX” often makes a good term paper topic. Rephrasing a title as a question is one tactic to use when encountering skeptical professors: “Do Psychedelics Have Implications for XXX?” or “How Should We Evaluate Psychedelic Claims of XXX?” Also, consider requesting that your local and school libraries acquire psychedelic books. Not only does this help spread knowledge, it also helps authors and encourages publishers to accept more psychedelic titles.
In the meantime, attend a convention! There’s quite a bit of psychedelic research presented at the yearly Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts conferences (http://slsa.press.jhu.edu). Similarly, the Toward a Science of Consciousness conferences held in Tucson, Arizona every other year also always have some presentations dealing with psychedelic research (http://www.consciousness.arizona.edu). And more specifically focused on psychedelics and altered states are the yearly Mind States conventions, where aboveground researchers and underground psychonauts congregate to discuss their latest discoveries. The Mind States emailing list provides updates on similar events that happen worldwide (http://www.mindstates.org).
Underground publications often present cutting-edge discoveries in the arenas of psychedelic chemistry, botany, and pharmacology. The Entheogen Review, for example, was the first place to discuss the extraction of tryptamines from Phalaris grasses for ayahuasca analogues and the first to confirm the psychoactivity of Mimosa tenuiflora (= M. hostilis) without coadministration of a monoamine oxidase inhibitor. These days, countless web sites and discussion forums carry first-person reports of the latest synthetic psychedelics and botanical preparations. Amateur science flourishes in our current legal situation, in which professional science is so difficult to perform that most discoveries have to be made underground. Remember, though, that the rigorous controls present in aboveground science are usually lacking in underground efforts, rendering many results questionable at best.
Start a Psychedelic Student Group
While one undergraduate is easy to intimidate, large groups of them have a history of occupying administration buildings to facilitate societal change. Fish travel in schools for a reason! Another strategy, therefore, is to start a student group. One possibility would be to form a chapter of a national organization such as the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) or Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP). This approach would be similar to student chapters of Greenpeace, Amnesty International, or Students for a Free Tibet.
One notorious troublemaker writes:
I took out an ad in the school’s newspaper, Come to the first meeting of the University of Chicago Education Society. We met at the spot that marked the beginning of the Atomic Age, a Henry Moore sculpture called The Nuclear Egg. About a hundred people showed up. We shared stories, brought speakers to town, dreamed of a saner world, and labored to manifest one.
At Harvard, where I work, there is no recognized undergraduate student organization focused on psychedelic research. The procedure for creating such an organization can be found on-line at: http://www.college.harvard.edu/student/ handbook.pdf. The advantages of forming a recognized student organization are many. Not only can recognized groups get permission to use campus facilities and assembly halls for events and symposia, they are also eligible to apply for funding from the student government. A student organization focused on psychedelic research could engage in outreach with other student groups and academic departments encompassing most of the physical, biological, and social sciences, as well as those pertaining to the arts, humanities, and civil liberties. Events could be held on campus to educate and inform, and university funds could be used to bring in speakers and arrange conferences. Such events could draw participants from all over the world. While these activities do not necessarily amount to actual psychedelic research, they could be fashioned in a manner to do so, if, for example, a faculty member were enlisted to supervise a survey-based study. More importantly, student organizations spread awareness, generate understanding, and de-stigmatize psychedelics, thereby helping to set the stage for actual research when the time and place are right.
SSDP and the student ACLU group helped sponsor the ethnopharmacology society’s seminar on the co-evolution of plants and humans. We also were awarded a grant from the student organization office–raising more than a thousand bucks!–and were able to bring in Dennis McKenna as the outside speaker. It was a splendid event, with Dennis giving a great talk examining plant chemical communication signals that may be driving the interesting side of human evolution. It was followed by a panel discussion that included some of University of Washington’s botany professors, a classics scholar, and an Incan medicine man.
Numerous organizations exist that appreciate people who offer to do volunteer work. MAPS needs help with their on-line psychedelic bibliography, creating abstracts for many of the articles that are listed. The Erowid web site also sometimes uses volunteers (see http://www.erowid.org/ general/about/about_volunteers.shtml). Find an organization with which you resonate and contact them to see what sort of help they need.
Without government approval, psychedelic research will stagnate as it has for the last forty or so years. Government politicians, agencies, and organizations need to understand that people interested in psychedelics are not thoughtlessly promoting drug use, but are sincerely searching for personal and scientific truths. Write letters and share how you feel! Nobody can arrest you for an opinion–yet.
Donate Money to Psychedelic Organizations
This is by far the easiest way to get involved. With no support from government or industry, that means that funding for psychedelic research is going to come from one place only–you!
As a GRADUATE STUDENT
Your first stop should be the Heffter Research Institute’s Scientific Advisory Panel, which is a list of psychedelic allies in the international academic world. The locations where these individuals work are areas where there is possible support for psychedelic research.
Failing this, Dr. Alexander Shulgin’s recommendation is to get as strong a foundation in graduate school as possible. Work in a highly-respected institution with good people doing solid, reputable research, pick up as many skills as you can along the way (for you never know which will ultimately be useful) then pursue what it is that you genuinely want to do, which you might not even know until after graduate school anyway. Learn solid methodology and techniques, gain as much knowledge as you can, hone your analytic skills–while keeping sight of the big picture–and then apply all these resources to psychedelic research when the time comes. The more rigorous and stringent your research and its interpretation, the harder it will be for people to argue with it, reject it, or not take it seriously–and that can make all the difference. If you try to get as much as you can out of graduate or medical school, you’ll always have those tools, analytical skills, and knowledge of sound techniques available to do excellent research in whatever field you choose. In addition, it is important to have proficiency and credibility in a field other than psychedelic research, to serve as a fallback position when changing political winds make times tough.
My own path was one of going to medical school and becoming a medical doctor, which I figured was a necessity if I ever wanted to actually give these drugs to people, which I do. Furthermore, I believe that an M.D. sometimes has more credibility than a Ph.D. or politician when it comes to telling people what’s good and bad for them. My grant proposals can afford to be a little more daring because if they’re all turned down, I won’t be living on the street–seeing patients for money is always an option. One disadvantage, of course, is the length of training–which in my case (neurology/ psychiatry) was ten years after college. Another disadvantage is the large loans and consequent temptation to specialize in something more profitable than psychedelics (and ample opportunities to do so). But I have no regrets about the path I have chosen to follow.
If you wish to follow the Ph.D. route, however, pure neuroscience or neuropharmacology is extremely valuable, as it is much easier politically to give psychedelics to animals or tissue cultures than it is to humans, and there is a large amount of funding available in areas indirectly applicable to the study of psychedelics, such as the pharmacology and physiology of serotonin. This sort of research builds the credibility necessary to apply for funding to study psychedelics directly. Unfortunately, much of the research done in these fields is on animals and never directly examines higher-order thought and cognition–the levels at which psychedelics engage human consciousness in the most fascinating way. And sadly, there are few academics in these fields willing to serve as mentors for students interested in psychedelics.
Experimental psychology, the study of the human mind, is also valuable, but psychonaut psychologists have given graduate-level psychology study mixed reviews. Today’s experimental psychology Ph.D. programs reportedly involve working in very restricted domains, performing tightly controlled experiments that rarely resemble real-world conditions, focus primarily on outward behavior (as opposed to studying mind), and interpreting data in ways that are inevitably constrained by how well they fit with currently accepted theories.
Clinical psychology will allow you to build the skills necessary in any multidisciplinary team researching the psychotherapeutic value of psychedelics. When psychedelics are ultimately approved as a treatment modality, a clinical psychologist will undoubtedly be part of any such treatment team. And as a clinical psychologist, you’ll be able to design clinical trials sensitive to set and setting, which are largely ignored in contemporary psychedelic research. A focus on psychedelic–psychotherapy outcome research would be an especially useful degree, and could lead to a job at MAPS. Clinical psychology graduate students report that the most prominent psychological perspective today is cognitive-behavioral, an approach more balanced between observable behavior and cognition. Less mainstream, transpersonal graduate schools such as the California Institute of Integral Studies, the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, or the Saybrook Institute provide an alternative to the prevailing cognitive-behavioral paradigm. Collectively, these institutes are the central hubs of clinical psychology wisdom, knowledge, and experience from the sixties, largely due to the influx of faculty such as Ralph Metzner, Stanislav Grof, Richard Tarnas, Stanley Krippner, and other veterans of the psychedelic science community.
Also consider psychoanalytic training, which is not just for M.D.s anymore–learning to navigate the subconscious is a valuable skill for anyone doing psychedelic psychotherapy! A dream is not so different from a trip, and dream analysis skills translate directly. But if you’re interested in research, make sure that you get a Ph.D. rather than a Psy.D.
Cognitive science is a pure science of the mind, drawing from a variety of disciplines, including computer science. (Cognitive science was largely founded as an attempt to model and imitate the human mind on a computer system.) There are far fewer such programs than comparable psychology programs, which are ubiquitous, yet cognitive science differs from experimental psychology in that it relies strongly on theoretical and empirical work done in other fields (such as ethnographic research), especially philosophy, neuroscience, and linguistics, but also sociology, anthropology, and cultural studies. These data are then used in an integrative way to better understand and modify theoretical foundations, rather than looked at as orthogonal data from a different field. The boundaries between disciplines often dissolve, resulting in integration that is necessary in order to understand the psychedelic experience and consciousness in general.
Cognitive science, as the science of higher–order conceptual structure and thought, will permit you to broadly study the mind itself, its cognitive components, how it is manifested in neural tissue, and how meaning is created, organized, modified, and communicated by humans in the real ecological, social, and cultural environment that we inhabit. Many cognitive science programs emphasize computational modeling, which is unfortunately still in its infancy. One cognitive scientist writes:
Here, in a cognitive science program, I am able to work in labs doing both brain-imaging (fMRI) as well as electrophysiological (EEG/ ERP) brainwave research, but at the same time study in rigorous detail theories from philosophy and linguistics while attempting to form a coherent picture of how the mind works, what thought is, and how we comprehend reality.
Ultimately, when deciding on a graduate program that will nurture your growth and refine your skills, your decision should be based on the professors under whom you will be working, the type of research that is carried out in their labs, the resources available to you, and the fit of your questions and ideas with those of your advisor. Whatever route you follow, learn as much as you can and keep your mind, eyes, and ears wide open. Absorb and integrate what you are studying with your own interests and ideas, but never shy away from something because it seems too rigid or intuitively wrong or entrenched within illusory modes of thought. Decide what you think is accurate and what is not, know why what you think is wrong is wrong, then envision a better way to understand and explain the phenomenon.
There are many paths to becoming a psychedelic researcher. Like the Internet, science views censorship as a system failure and routes around it; psychedelic research, which has long lain fallow, is slowly germinating once again. You may end up studying the biochemical and neural basis for the psychedelic experience, psychedelic psychotherapy, religious and contemplative approaches to the ecstatic experience, the nature of consciousness, law reform and public policy, going on ethnographic and anthropological expeditions, or designing and running clinical trials. You may become a strong voice in the media. But what matters most in the end is that you attain success and satisfaction on a personal, professional, and spiritual level, while at the same time remaining true to yourself and your beliefs.
This article also appears in the Summer 2006 issue of The Entheogen Review and the Autumn 2006 issue of the MAPS Bulletin.
The contributors have agreed to serve as resources for aspiring psychedelic researchers.
Paul Goodwin, Neuroscience and Pharmacology
Multidisciplinary Approaches to Psychedelic Scholarship by Thomas B. Roberts, PhD
IN ADDITION TO THE PROFESSIONAL CAREER OPPORTUNITIES in the biological sciences that Dave Nichols, Ph.D. described in the MAPS Bulletin of Autumn 1997, students who want to study psychedelics as part of their ongoing undergraduate and graduate programs have many other non-career possibilities open to them. For seventeen years I have taught "Psychedelic Mindview" at Northern Illinois University as a special topics course in educational psychology (Riedlinger, 1988; Roberts, 1988a, 1988b), have supervised independent studies, and consulted for students’ term papers and in-class presentations for other classes. A dissertation I chaired year before last in Educational Psychology exemplifies nonbiological studies of psychedelics (Hruby, The Varieties of Mystical Experience, Spiritual Practices, and Psychedelic Drug Use Among College Students.) Complete citations of most resources in this article (as well as brief excerpts from them) can be found in Religion and Psychoactive Sacraments: An Entheogen Chrestomathy online at http://www.csp.org/chrestomathy. References which are not in the Chrestomathy are at the end of this article. A scan through the Chrestomathy reveals about two dozen dissertations on psychedelics which have something to say about their entheogenic uses; these portray the wide range of scholarly and scientific interest in psychedelics from philosophy and psychology through anthropology and literature. As a specialized scholarly resource, the Chrestomathy lists only items that have to do with the religious uses of psychoactive plants and chemicals-entheogens, so it’s selective in its listing, omitting nonentheogenic psychedelic items.
Wide range of opportunities
Since psychedelic experiences are also important for the ideas they generate, there is an immense amount of scholarly work that is possible other than the design and testing of psychoactive drugs. To me, one of the most fascinating things about psychedelics is the fact that their influences range from art to zoology, from archeology to futures studies, from the neurosciences to religion. Because the human mind is used in all human intellectual activity - the arts, sciences, scholarship, and day-to-day living - a new understanding of our minds has implications for all these, and psychedelics offer a new (or renewed) view of our minds and new ways of using them (Grof, 1975, 1994). While independent studies, term papers and in-class presentations are not lifetime professional commitments, sometimes they do flavor a future career, and sometimes they develop into an area of specialization within other disciplines; the study of shamanism in anthropology and ethnobotany are examples.
You can obtain advanced degrees in a number of different fields and consider the implications of psychedelics for that field; for example, I am an educational psychologist who considers the implications of psychedelics in my professional activities on the development of the human mind. Similarly, professors in other fields may include psychedelics as part of their work, although they aren’t their major professional discipline. To students who want to earn advanced degrees with a psychedelic flavor, I recommend they attend the top-ranked graduate schools they can in their prospective fields. It is often the best schools which are most willing to take a flyer on new ideas, and in one’s future teaching and research it is helpful to have attended a top graduate program, especially if one has something unusual to say.
Options for undergrads
Undergraduates who are willing to take responsibility for their own education will find many opportunities. Most academic departments offer independent studies, directed reading courses, etc. Although supervising an independent study means extra work for professors, the joy of seeing a student who is excited about a topic usually more than offsets the extra load, and if the professor is also interested in psychedelics, he or she is likely to enjoy mentoring on this topic.
How do you go about finding a professor who might have the time and inclination to direct an independent study of psychedelics? Think of how your specific interest in psychedelics intersects with professors’ professional interests. Psychotherapy, psychology or mental health? Art or music? Anthropology, sociology, or archeology? Philosophy or religion? If your interest is in creativity or the nature of the human mind, professors from several departments may be likely possibilities.
Remember: professors, like their students, have interests beyond their classes. Just because a professor teaches, say, modern French literature, that doesn’t automatically mean she or he wouldn’t welcome an independent study on psychedelics, and as a student you might be pleasantly surprised to learn about Le Club des Haschischins (Stafford, 1992) or Sartre’s mescaline experiences (Riedlinger, 1982). If the professor you first ask is unable to direct your independent study, ask her if she knows of someone else who might be interested. Departmental secretaries, especially those who have been on the job for many years, can be helpful in suggesting faculty members.
Preparing for an independent study
Before you ask a professor to direct your independent study, it will help to have a specific idea of exactly what topic you want to study or what question(s) you want the independent study to answer. If you know of books and articles that you’d like to include, it’s helpful to have a list of them. Like most professors, my first request for an independent study is to have the students write a one-page or two-page outline of their goals for the independent study, what they expect to do, and how they will accomplish it. Since you’ll run into unexpected publications and new ideas as you go along, it’s best to make your plan a working, tentative plan that is revisable if both you and your professor agree.
Some professors will let you attend a conference on psychedelics as part of an independent study, too, provided you work it into your plan for the independent study before you attend it. They’ll probably want you to critique some of the sessions, read some speakers’ works before or after hearing them, or involve your mind some other way in the conference. They won’t, however, be able to give you academic credit for doing anything illegal, so don’t even bother mentioning it.
Where should you start to look for information on psychedelics? Readers of this article have already made a good start with the MAPS Bulletin. Next try the MAPS website and its links to other web resources. Among books, my favorite starting place is Psychedelic Drugs Reconsidered by Lester Grinspoon and James B. Bakalar. Thanks to the Lindesmith Center, the paperback edition of this book was republished in 1997; its annotated bibliography is splendid. To use the book efficiently, look up your topic in the index, go to the pages indicated, note the chapter number and topical subhead, then go back to the annotated bibliography, which is organized by chapter and topic. The annotations will fill you in on the research and speed up your decision on which sources to read. Peter Stafford’s Psychedelics Encyclopedia (1992) is another wide-ranging collection of psychedelic gems.
Religion and Psychoactive Sacraments, whose URL was given above, contains bibliographic citations and short excerpts from some 400 books, dissertations, and topical issues of journals (no single articles). Because many books which are primarily on nonentheogenic topics say something of interest about entheogens - psychoactive plants and chemicals used in a religious context - you can use it to look up information on related topics besides religion. To use the Chrestomathy’s internal search program most efficiently, use a "stem" followed by *. For example, counsel* will pick up counselor, counselors, counseling, etc. Shaman locates 21 files, while shaman* brings up 44 because it picks up files which contain shamanism, shaman’s, etc.
Using the library
Most libraries also have a collection of indexes and abstracts on CDs, such as PsycLit, Sociofile, PAIS (Public Affairs Information Service), and MEDLINE. Because psychedelics cross categories, you’ll probably want to use several CDs. University libraries will also subscribe to online research services, varying from library to library. I like Current Contents, which indexes over 7500 journals and is published weekly. It’s usually handy to search several words, e.g., psychedelic and hallucinogen. Don’t be shy about asking reference librarians for help; that’s what they’re there for.
So much for broad scale psychedelic references. Here are some of my personal favorites by discipline. For out-of-print books or books not in your library, ask about interlibrary loan.
There’s so much here it’s hard to select even a few. Try searching shaman* in the Chrestomathy.
Furst, Peter E. (1990). Hallucinogens and Culture.
La Barre, Weston. (1989). The Peyote Cult. In each edition La Barre updates the extensive references, so go for the most recent, fifth, edition.
Wasson, R. Gordon; Kramrisch, Stella; Ott, Jonathan, and Ruck, Carl A. P. (1986). Persephone’s Quest: Entheogens and the Origins of Religion. There are both paperback and deluxe editions.
Devereux, Paul. (1997). The Long Trip: The Prehistory of Psychedelia.
Rudgley, Richard. (1993). Essential Substances in Society: A Cultural History of Intoxicants in Society
Grey, Alex, with Ken Wilber and Carlo McCormick. (1990). Sacred Mirrors: The Visionary Art of Alex Grey.
Grushkin, Paul D. (1987). The Art of Rock. New York: Abbeville Press. Pages 498-503 contain a considerable bibliography.
Masters, R. E. L. & Houston, Jean. (1968). Psychedelic Art.
Weldon, Michael. (1983). The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film. New York: Ballentine Books.
Biology, Biochemistry, Botany
Dave Nichols’ article covered the possibilities here for a professional career in biochemistry and the neurosciences, and as he suggested, MEDLINE is the primary source.
Ott, Jonathan. (1996). Pharmacotheon: Entheogenic Drugs, Their Plant Sources and History.
Perrine, Daniel M. (1996). The Chemistry of Mind-Altering Drugs: History, Pharmacology, and Cultural Context.
Schultes, Richard Evans, and Hofmann, Albert. (1992). Plants of the Gods: Their Sacred, Healing and Hallucinogenic Powers.
Gartz, Jochen. (1996). Magic Mushrooms Around the World: A Scientific Journey Across Cultures and Time: The Case for Challenging Research and Value Systems.
Hofmann, Albert. (1980). LSD: My Problem Child: Reflections on Sacred Drugs, Mysticism, and Science.
Musto, David F. (July 1991). Opium, Cocaine and Marijuana in American History. Scientific American, pages 40-47.
Boire, Richard Glen. (1997). Sacred Mushrooms and the Law.
Committee on Drugs and the Law, (June 1994). A Wiser Course: Ending Drug Prohibition. The Record of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, Vol. 49, No. 5, pages 521-577. Wider drug policy, not specifically entheogens.
The Entheogen Law Reporter. P.O. Box 73481, Davis, CA. 95617.
Hofstra Law Review. A Symposium on Drug Decriminalization.
Literature and Language
Graves, Robert (1965) ETC.: A Review of General Semantics. . (Special issue on psychedelics.) . Each of his four books listed contains insights into entheogens; although, none of the books is wholly about them.
Mosaic: A Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature: Parts I and II. (1986). (Two topical issues: Literature and Altered States of Consciousness).
Roberts, T. B. (1981). Consciousness criticism. C.E.A. Critic (College English Association) 44(1), 2532.
Politics and public policy
The best way to keep up with this vast and fast- changing field is by the Internet and current journals. Most sources combine all drugs into one category, not distinguishing their entheogenic uses from other uses.
Grof, Stanislav. (1994). LSD Psychotherapy. A reprint of the 1980 edition.
Grof, Stanislav. (1993). Realms of the Human Unconscious: Observations from LSD Research. London: Souvenir Press (Educational and Academic). A reprint of the 1975-6 editions.
Passie, Torsten. (1997). Psycholytic and Psychedelic Therapy Research 1931-1995: A Complete International Bibliography.
Eliade, Mircea. (1987). The Encyclopedia of Religion. See topics listed under "Note."
Forte, Robert, ed. (1997). Entheogens and the Future of Religion.
Roberts, Thomas B., and Hruby, Paula Jo. (1997). Religion and Psychoactive Sacraments: An Entheogen Chrestomathy. www.csp.org/chrestomathy
Sociology and popular culture
Beck, Jerome, and Rosenbaum, Marsha. (1994). Pursuit of Ecstasy: The MDMA Experience. Blum, Richard, & Associates. All of his listed works.
Saunders, Nicholas. (1997). Ecstasy Reconsidered.
Palmer, Cynthia, and Horowitz, Michael. (1982). Shaman Woman, Mainline Lady: Women’s Writings on the Drug Experience.
Focusing on a subject
The writings above and their references, the websites and their links, and the CDs and their resources will lead you along the paths of psychedelic scholarship. I have found, and I expect you will, that some topic will fascinate you and focus your attention. By following this you may find that you become so enamored with your topic, say, Grof’s BPMs, that it occupies your mind so that eventually you find yourself habitually interpreting your experiences, the TV and movies you see, or your daily life in a BPM world. Such concentration is necessary for full involvement in an idea, and extreme, dedicated interest is the parent of specialized scholarly progress.
At the same time, addiction to one lens for interpreting the world can distort reality and blind one to other information. Psychedelics are but one group of psychotechnologies for exploring our minds’ abilities to produce and use many mindbody states--meditation, the martial arts, sensory overload and sensory deprivation, physical routines, etc.--so psychedelics should be seen in a wider mindbody context.
The larger context
Perhaps the easiest error that grows from any fascinating area is failing to see that one’s favorite ideas (Should I call them "addictive ideas"?) exist in a larger context. While the strengths of specialization include following an idea wherever it leads and aiding its full fluorescence, specialization’s dangers are losing track of the larger cultural network, omitting the embedding civilization, and forgetting the wider intellectual context.
My own path in studying consists of being fascinated with a specific topic for several years--Maslow’s needs hierarchy, Grof’s map of the human mind, entheogens--then expanding through those specific doors to larger realms, transpersonal psychology, the multistate mind, and the mystical roots of religion. A question I find handy to ask myself is, "This specific thing is one example of what larger group of similar items?" Ken Wilber’s four-quadrant approach to knowledge (1997) is a good reminder not to become stuck in any specific approach-psychedelic or nonpsychedelic; we need to include both our subjective experience and objective scientific information, to include broad scale culture and groups, communities, or collectives of similar things. From a more inclusive perspective, Wilber sees the study of nonordinary states of consciousness (including psychedelics but not limited to them) as one of a dozen schools of consciousness research and theory (1997).
Perhaps Jack Kornfield’s advice for meditators is both the most common-sensical and the rarest for psychedelicists, too:
Meditation: Reflecting On Your Attitude Toward Altered States What is your relationship to unusual and altered states in meditation [psychedelics]? As you read about these experiences, notice which ones touch you, notice where you are attracted or what reminds you of past experiences. How do you meet such experiences when they arise? Are you attached and proud of them? Do you keep trying to repeat them as a mark of your progress or success? Have you gotten stuck trying to make them return over and over again? How much wisdom have you brought to them? Are they a source of entanglement or a source of freedom for you? Do you sense them as beneficial and healing, or are they frightening? Just as you can misuse these states through attachment, you can also misuse them by avoiding them and trying to stop them. If this is the case, how could your meditation deepen if you opened to them? Let yourself sense the gifts they can bring, gifts of inspiration, new perspectives, insight, healing, or extraordinary faith. Be aware of what perspective and teaching you follow, for guidance in these matters. If you feel a wise perspective is lacking, where could you find it? How could you best honor these realms and use them for your benefit? (1993, page 134)
Sources not listed here can be found in Religion and Psychoactive Sacraments: An Entheogen Chrestomathy, www.csp.org/chrestomathy
Grinspoon, L., & Bakalar, J. B. (1979/1997). Psychedelic Drugs Reconsidered. Lindesmith Center reprint. http://www.drugtext.nl/TLC/pdrad.html
Riedlinger, Thomas J. (1982). Sartre’s Rite of Passage. Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, Vol. 14, No. 2, pages 105-123.
Riedlinger, T. (1988). "Psychedelic Schooling." Psychedelic Monographs and Essays, (3), 53-59.
Roberts, T. B. (1988a). "Psychedelic Research Class: A Professor’s View." Psychedelic Monographs and Essays, (3) 62-76.
Roberts, T. B. (1988b). "Psychedelics Research: An Annotated Bibliography." Psychedelic Monographs and Essays, (3) 77-90.
Wilber, Ken. (1997). "An Integral Theory of Consciousness." Journal of Consciousness Studies, Vol. 4, No. 1, 71-92.
Video: Psychedelic Harm Reduction
This educational video produced by MAPS is a practical introduction to the principles of psychedelic therapy. This educational video teaches psychedelic drug users how to minimize psychological risks and explore the therapeutic applications of psychedelics. Narrated by Ingrid Pacey, Ph.D., the video demonstrates examples of when and how to help another person make the most out of a difficult experience with psychedelics.
MAPS Graduate Student Listserv
This moderated Google Group is for graduate students and prospective graduate students who are conducting or interested in conducting psychedelic research to share resources and ideas. Visit the Google Groups page to request an invitation.