The Biological Basis of Mysticism? solstice biologicsApril 27, 2020 Off By Montero Theo
As you’re well aware of, I’m a geek for questions about consciousness. I love to think about issues such as understanding and defining experience, the nature of reality, the essence of the spiritual experience from both a physical and mental standpoint, and so on.
So when I stumbled upon a book with the title of “DMT: The Spirit Molecule – A Doctors Revolutionary Research into the Biology of Near-Death and Mystical Experiences,” you can imagine that I nearly wet myself with excitement.
I didn’t think anyone was allowed to do research like this anymore. And if they were, I’d fear the culture of the scientific establishment would prohibit any conclusions not ordained by skepticism.
But someone did. And thankfully, they published the results for the world to see.
DMT is sitting inside your head right now.
It’s release into the brain is mediated by the pineal gland, a curious part of the brain no bigger than a fingernail, whose purpose isn’t exactly understood.
And what is DMT anyway?
It’s an extraordinarily powerful psychedelic.
And it is found throughout the natural world. In practically everything, too: “mammals, marine animals, frogs, toads, mushrooms, barks, flowers and roots.”
And as mentioned, it’s in you and me too.
DMT: The Spirit Molecule is based on Dr. Strassman’s research into the effects of this substance on live subjects. Amazingly, he was able to secure government approval and funding for these experiments.
The ensuing experiences reported by his volunteers are nothing short of mind blowing.
A few themes dominated:
- separation of consciousness from the body
- mystical and spiritual revelations
- a belief that they had actually died or were dying at that very moment
- encounters with various beings
Those 4 points are a lot to take in.
It is this last bit about “beings” that I find the most interesting.
What exactly are these “beings”?
They are described in a variety of ways: “spiders, mantises, reptiles, guides, helpers, beings, clowns, bees, cacti, stick figures.”
Half of those involved in the study report making contact with “beings” or “presences.”
This is all very strange and was not an expected part of the study.
The study was actually intended to explore the therapeutic value of DMT, analogous to the way psychologists and scientists in the past explored LSD as a means of understanding mental illness and as a therapeutic aid.
(That is, before popular opinion towards drugs made this research impossible. Dr. Strassman gives a fascinating (and a bit overblown) walk through the history of this type of research.)
But instead of finding a substance well suited for therapy, he found a substance that provoked many more questions than answers, the main question being this:
Being that naturally occurring DMT exists in the body and can be released into the brain via the pineal gland, could it be the biological basis for what we recognize as mysticism, near death experiences, out of body experiences, and the modern day alien abduction story?
If DMT sounds vaguely familiar, you might recognize it as one of the ingredients in ayahausca, the shamanic brew taken for thousands of years as a way of experiencing the divine, communicating with dead ones, seeing into the future, and visiting the dream-time.
People who have taken DMT have labeled it as brutal. The effects arise suddenly and without warning, completely consume your entire being before you know what’s happened. It’s so quick you can’t really smoke it. The experience hits you so hard you’re likely to drop the pipe before you’re even finished inhaling.
Dr. Strassman got around this by directly injected DMT into the bloodstream. Using this method it took about 15 seconds for the experience to start.
And what is that experience like?
A fairly typical description of the DMT experience is described as “a startling rapid onset of effect, a kaleidoscopic display of visual hallucination, and a separation of consciousness from the physical body. And most curiously, there was a feeling of “the other” somewhere within the hallucinatory world to which this remarkably psychedelic allowed them entrance.”
Nearly everyone in the study reported feeling vibrations brought on by DMT.
This point really intrigues me because vibrations are associated with out of the body experiences and certain lucid dream induction techniques. According to certain mystical traditions and, conversely, scientific theories such as string theory, vibrations are also seen as the basis of all matter and existence.
Being that I’m intensely interested in dreams and lucid dreaming, I also couldn’t help but see the parallels to some of the reported experiences to the dreamworld.
Understandably, no one in the study wanted to label the experience as a dream – they felt this was akin to dismissing its reality and importance. I’m intrigued that people on DMT reported feeling nothing like intoxication but clarity in these other places. In these other realms, just as in lucid dreaming, the sense of experience was there, inside that realm. They could walk around and explore, touch, feel, sense, etc. It wasn’t murky or cloudy or a drunken-type experience. It wasn’t that they felt they were really sitting in a bed and having this experience in their head. Instead, the point of perception existed inside that inner realm, just as in lucid dreaming, despite the body resting on a bed back in the “real world.”
Curiously, one participant remarked that “there was something about this that was different from a dream, even the lucid dreams I sometimes have.”
And there’s that implication again – an experience that is somehow more real than real. Funny how this description comes up in mystical experiences, drug-induced realm hopping, and in intensely lucid dreams. How can it be that an experience in the “imaginal realm” of dreams and DMT feels more real than, well, real?
Perhaps the weirdest aspect of this book is its fearless venture into the alien abduction and UFO phenomenon and how this could in fact be a result of DMT in the brain.
People in the DMT study occasionally reported experiences that sounded a whole lot like a standard alien abduction story.
This includes the subject awakening on a table surrounded by beings. Sometimes these beings would inject objects into their skin or just examine them with foreign instruments.
Despite the popular image of the alien with a small body and big eyes on a big head, there is also a curious reporting of insect-like aliens, just as in the DMT experience.
It’s hard not to imagine that there could be a relationship here. Could it be that the whole alien phenomenon is based on naturally occurring DMT flooding the brain? Whats the simplest of the two explanations?
Personally, I think this theory deserves considerable attention. I also think it can be used to explain similar phenomena manifested in other cultures too – for instance, the fact that a few hundred years ago no one saw aliens, but instead they saw witches flying through the sky or demons surrounding them at bedtime. (For another brilliant perspective on this, check out Carl Sagans “The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark” where he relates religious visions, demon and witch sightings, and alien abductions under the same umbrella.)
I don’t think alien abductees are just making their stories up. Nor do I think the masses of Christianity made up stories of witches in the sky or angels appearing to them. I think it’s most likely that in many of the cases there is a genuine belief in the reality of the experiences.
This is not to preclude anything in the way of their true existence but either way it seems likely there be a biological basis for humanities tendency towards such experiences.
Could that basis be the DMT in our brains?
In closing, here’s a wonderful quote:
“It is almost inconceivable that a chemical as simple as DMT could provide access to such an amazingly varied array of experiences, from the least dramatic to the most unimaginably earth-shattering. From psychological insights to encounters with aliens. Abject terror or nearly unbearable bliss. Near-death and rebirth. Enlightenment. All of these from a naturally occurring chemical cousin of serotonin, a widespread and essential brain neurotransmitter.
It is just as fascinating to wonder why Nature, or God, made DMT. What is the biological or evolutionary advantage of having various plants and our bodies synthesize the spirit molecule? If DMT is indeed released at particularly stressful times in our lives, is that a coincidence, or is it intended? If it is intended, for what purpose?”