From Chapter 3: Interpersonal Psychedelics
Research on Interpersonal Psychedelics
Although the spiritual states induced by psychedelics are transient, the therapeutic benefits are much more stable. Moreover, it is the therapeutic process--the cleansing of the psyche of dysfunctional impressions in childhood and the recovery of the capacity to love--that opens a person in a more stable way and brings him or her closer to the development of his or her spiritual potential. In this regard, I believe that, as I have termed them, “feeling enhancer” and “fantasy enhancer” psychedelics offer great possibilities, and I consider myself very fortunate that life offered me the opportunity to initiate the field of their therapeutic application many decades ago. Here I will offer an overview of what I have learned from these, which have been generally known as “empathogens,” but that I personally prefer to call “interpersonal psychedelics.”
On feeling enhancement and psychotherapy facilitation
In 1962 I was on my way to the Amazon where I was going to carry out my first psychedelic research project, when I met Sasha Shulgin, the most ingenious of the psychedelic chemists, who introduced me to the potential that existed in the research of the substituted phenylisopropylamines. At that time, I was interested in the concoction known as ayahuasca, the effects of which I came to interpret as an awakening of the reptilian brain and a sacralisation of the “inner animal.”
Although all psychedelics contribute to undoing the “ego”--the small mind that obstructs the Great Mind--it could be said that the effect of LSD-type psychedelics is most surprising when it comes to undoing the cognitive structure that constitutes the support of the ego and that they could be considered as “head drugs.” In contrast, harmaline alkaloids appeared to be “gut drugs”: catalysts that facilitate the flow of instinctive self-regulation, even on a physical level. With that background I embarked on the exploration of MDA, which turned out to be a psychotropic of a new species.
MDA: The Drug of Analysis
It was obvious from the beginning that this substituted amphetamine had plenty to do with the heart and not much with the guts or the head. Certainly, it could be considered a “drug of the heart,” and by calling it a “feeling enhancer,” I wished to imply that its main effects were felt in the emotional sphere, although such effects were obviously not those of a mere stimulant. One aspect of this enhancement seemed to be an amplification of emotional awareness, another, a greater willingness and ability to communicate feelings. That was not all however, and now I would say that the “emotional optimization” more characteristic of MDA and MDMA is not simply an attainment of love, but a serene detachment and gentleness, which in turn allows the possibility of transmuting suffering through self-knowledge.
Sasha Shulgin was the first to draw my attention to some observations in Gordon Alles’ lab notes about MDA. Alles, who discovered amphetamine, thought that MDA would be useful as a vasodilator and tested it on himself with a plethysmograph around one of his fingers to verify the hypothesis. After a while he found himself more talkative than usual, and at one point he saw a ring of yellowish smoke in the room, although no one was smoking. Did not all of this suggest a hallucinogenic property, especially given the fact that the structure of the MDA molecule is a kind of hybrid between amphetamine and mescaline?
I was in the right place at the right moment: an avid seeker who longed to discover more medicine for my soul, so I deduced that I had to explore the substance further. At that time, I was a psychiatrist who worked for the Centre for Medical Anthropology Studies at the School of Medicine of the University of Chile, which was willing to support me in this adventure. Since there were no drug-related scandals in Chile, I was in a position very similar to that of Stanislav Grof, who at that same time was able to research LSD in Czechoslovakia. Only, instead of concentrating on LSD, I researched other avenues. One of these was the field of phenylisopropylamines, another was the exploration of a South American shamanic concoction known as ayahuasca, and another was the main alkaloid of the African psychotropic plant iboga.
From the first trials carried out on myself and on some acquaintances, it became clear that MDA was something that, unlike LSD, caused an expansion of emotional awareness without interfering with the thought process. Moreover, its effect did not separate the subject from the ordinary world of objects and persons, but it seemed to be apt for dealing with “unresolved issues” of the interpersonal world. Looking back, I can say that I was very fortunate to come across MDA, for despite a certain toxicity that affected some people its effects were quite similar to the now better known MDMA or “ecstasy.”
The discovery of this new type of psychedelic was published in a brief report (co-authored with Shulgin and Sargent), which appeared in Medical Pharmacology, exp. 17: 359-364 (1967): “Evaluation of 3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine (MDA) as an Adjunct to Psychotherapy,” but by the time it appeared I was already involved in the exploration of MDA-supported psychotherapy.
Working with people at the University Clinic in Santiago, I found that the MDA patients immediately regressed to early childhood and relived old traumatic memories, especially of mistreatment and even incestuous rape. Many experiences of abuse are forgotten but can be remembered, and undoing childhood amnesia could also involve other types of memories. In an MDA session, for example, a middle-aged woman recalled that she was locked up in a room through the window of which she had witnessed the murder of her father at the hands of her mother’s lover. I could not prove that this incidence was true, but I believe it was, for the understanding of her life that resulted from that memory brought about a remarkable healing.