Monday, February 20, 2012

Perpetual Intoxication

Five or six years ago – I had just turned 21 or 22, I'm not sure – I went out to lunch with my mother. We've always gotten along well, but she wanted to treat me to a decent meal, converse, and just generally have a good time together on this occasion. My mother is far more... Protestant... than I am.

Even by that point in my life, there were very marked differences between us. Which is to be expected, of course. Amongst the many differences we have is this: I enjoy drinking alcohol, and engage in the activity whenever I choose. This is not as often as one might imagine; I actually prefer other “intoxicants,” but generally speaking, I like booze. My mother's relationship with the drug is a bit more ambivalent. She will drink on occasion, but these occasions are rare. She also treats the substance as far more dangerous than I do.

On this occasion, she invited me to order alcohol along with my meal. So I ordered a Jack and Coke.

I did not anticipate this choice would prompt a lengthy discussion on my preferred methods of acquiring the buzzed or lightly drunken state (which I greatly prefer to the full-on state of “drunk”), and was prompted into explaining that for some reason, the Jack and Coke had been both the second alcoholic beverage I'd ever consumed legally (the first was an Irish Carbomb), and had remained a constant companion in my forays into bars and such.

She turned bright red. I asked her why. She told me, “I was drinking that on the night you were concieved.”

Suddenly, my life made complete sense. I quite simply would not exist today if it were not for a bottle of Jack Daniels, and a 2-litre bottle of Coca-Cola.

***


We can speak of chemical compounds which are psychoactive in many ways; we can call them “drugs,” though this word often obscures many faces of the subject. Or we can refer to the chemical structures themselves, by the chemical name (e.g. N,N-Dimethyltryptamine). We can similarly refer to the chemical compounds as “alkaloids.”* Each of these, unfortunately, has specific drawbacks. The word “drug” often creates the illusion that we are talking about a highly specific category of chemicals (e.g. “the War on Drugs,” or “Just Say No to Drugs”) which are somehow especially separate other chemicals. For example, alcohol and caffeine are both “drugs,” but we may purchase each of them quite easily, and possession does not necessitate the Police State bearing down upon one's person. Meanwhile, not all drugs are alkaloids (I will not get into this rather complex discussion), and the term alkaloid itself is somewhat vague for reasons that Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin discusses in TiHKAL**. Generally speaking, when we are discussing the chemical native to the plant, we are discussing an alkaloid; when we are discussing a synthetic deritative taken from the plant, we are discussing a “drug.” However, even this distinction could be argued as wrong by some individuals.

The topic of drugs and magick is not an easy one to address. One major factor in this is that one has to decide if they are going to assault the topic from a personal angle (which can easily backfire); another is that a great many people freak out if the topic is brought up at all. The reasons for these freak-outs are mostly cultural, due to the fact that we've never actually learned how to properly address the subject, and many discussions can become... Illegal, if certain topics are brought up. For example, I cannot tell you how to make certain chemical compounds (“drugs”) on this blog, because those compounds are illegal. Doing so would have a great many terrible ramifications, even if it makes free speech about the subject a rather interesting dilemma. I will avoid doing so for that reason, specifically.

I will, however, talk a bit about the ways in which drugs affect you. I plan to focus on two presently “illegal” drugs (LSD, and DMT), to keep from writing something like a 40 page discussion on the War on Drugs, and how utterly ignorant our culture insists on being. This would be tiresome unless you enjoy reading about such things.

***
Stolen from Wikipedia.

On November 16th, 1938 Albert Hofmann first synthesized LSD-25 from Ergot (Claviceps Purpurea). Historian Carlo Ginzburg describes ergot in his Ecstasies: Deciphering the Witches' Sabbath*** as: “a mushroom which, favouring rainy springs and summers, establishes itself on grains, in particular rye, covering them with blackish outgrowths called sclerotium. The ingestion of flour thus contaminated provokes real epidemics of ergotism (from ergot, the word that designates the mushroom in English and in French). Two varieties of this morbid condition are known. The first, recorded mainly in Western Europe, causes very serious gangrene; in the Middle Ages it was known as 'St. Anthony's Fire.' The second, chiefly spread in Central and Northern Europe, provoked convulsions, extremely violent cramps, states similar to epilepsy, with a loss of consciousness lasting six to eight hours. Both forms, the gangrenous and convulsive, were very frequent due to the diffusion on the European continent of a grain-like rye, which is much hardier than wheat. In the course of the seventeenth century they often had lethal consequences, especially before their cause was discovered to be the claviceps purpurea.”

On April 19th, 1943. By 1947, Sandoz – the company that employed Hofmann (who would later write a book on LSD entitled “My Problem Child” which discusses the first technical Acid Trip had) – released LSD for Psychiatric Study and use in Psyciatric treatment. These two events are typically seen as the first historical stages of acid. But, insofar as ergot is concerned as a psychoative, the history stretches back a bit further.

In addition to the above, Ginzburg also discusses some of the medicinal uses of ergot (such as for abortions), and the names that it bore in Germanic folklore. He writes: “Rye had been cultivated since ancient times in the Alps and in the greater part of central Europe; in other areas, for example in Greece, there grew other species of claviceps which contain alkaloids that could be used as substitutes. But evidently the material accessibility of a potentially hallucinogenic substance does not prove that it was being consciously utilized. More indicative are a number of terms popularly used to designate claviceps purpurea, such as the French seigle ivre (drunken rye) and the German Tollkorn (mad wheat), which seem to point to an ancient awareness of the potency of the plant. Towards the middle of the nineteenth century, children in the German countryside were told about frightful beings such as the 'rye wolf' or 'rye dog' (Roggenwolf, Roggenhund). They were most likely mythical transfigurations of ergot, 'the rye mother' (Roggenmutter), also called 'wolf' (Wolf) or, because of its elongated form, 'Wolf's tooth' (Wolfzhan). In the stories told in certain regions the blackish excrescences of claviceps purpurea became iron beasts which the rye mother gave the children to suck so that they would die. Between the rye wolf (Roggenwolf) and the werewolf (werwolf) there was a profound affinity. 'The werewolf sits amid the grain,' the people said.

The hypothesis that ergot was used to obtain states of loss or alteration of consciousness is rendered plausible by this wealth of mythical associations. It would be definitively confirmed were it possible to say that there existed a connection between a word of such obscure etymology as ergot and the German word warg (outlaw, but also werewolf): unfortunately, this is not demonstrable.”

During the 1950s, the major belief about this chemical compound (LSD-25, specifically, but hallucinogens generally) was that it was “Psychotomimetic,” or “psychosis inducing.” This is a largely one-sided view of the compound, and of hallucinogens in general. Nonetheless, this view of the drug lead to the CIA employing researchers and tests on the American populace of LSD-25, hoping to weaponize the substance. Despite this factor, one of the things that LSD-25 does after being ingested is activate the DARPP-32 pathways, which are (they apparently under-perform****) active in schizophrenic individuals. Nonetheless, we cannot reasonably claim that perceptions while on LSD-25 are the “same” as the perceptions of those who have undergone a psychotic break with reality.

LSD-25 was without a doubt one of the first, and foremost, psychadelic drugs to cross into the perception of the world at large. It's history is best documented (at least from the massive amount of reading I have done on it over the years) in Acid Dreams: A Complete Social History of LSD.*****

***

Similarly Stolen.

Alexander Shulgin's TiHKAL contains within it (at least in some versions of the book) the fifteenth chapter, entitled “DMT is Everywhere.”

And that is, precisely, where DMT (N,N-Dimethyltryptamine) is. Every. Fucking. Where. It is in your brain. It is in the bodies of frogs and toads; in fungi, in trees and grasses, and in various shrubbery. It is present in trace amounts in some species of the coffee plant. It can even found found, in different forms, in sponges.

Presently DMT is legally classified as a “Class 1 Substance,” meaning it has no known medicinal use, and is subject to criminal litigation if a certain amount is found on certain individuals. There is currently at least one religious institution which can use it as a sacramental drug, however, to everyone else it remains illegal.

It may well be the catalyst for some (if not many) numinous experiences native to human individuals. This is the view taken by Dr. Richard Straussman in his DMT: The Spirit Molecule. The book has spawned a documentary, of the same name, which can currently be streamed over on Netflix and is interesting, to say the least, to watch.

Obviously, individuals that take DMT trip balls (to put it mildly). The question, of course, is why we aren't having mind-bending visions all the time from ingesting the substance due to not realizing all the places it is present. Which is an interesting topic. DMT is orally inactive, because it is native to the body. As such, the body has various mechanisms (MAOs) which keep it from crossing the blood-brain barrier. When taken with an MAOI, however, DMT becomes orally active. This is the method by which more than a few South American cultures make use of the substance as an Entheogen. Typically, the name for this substance is either “Ayahuasca” (Vine of the Spirit[s], Vine of the Soul), or “Yage.” Currently, some of the individuals who practice the art of making this entheogen are in very real danger in certain areas of Peru.

In addition to all of this, DMT is related (as a tryptamine) to the drug Ibogaine, which can be used to easily treat conditions such as Heroin Addiction, with (reportedly) far fewer problems than the currently-in-vogue Methadone. Despite the anti-addictive properties, Drug Laws have kept full-scale treatment and tests of Ibogaine from occurring – for what may best be termed as, “no-goddamn-good-reason.”

Would it be unreasonable to ask how it is even possible to declare that DMT and Ibogaine have “no medicinal value”? If law-makers made the same claims about Serotonin, or Dopamine, and attempts were made to class them as some tryptamines are being treated by law, the scientific and psychiatric communities would have a field day. However, due to the very nature of the “War on Drugs,” such things tend to go unnoticed.

***

I had planned to get into “what these substances do to your brain,” but there just isn't time or space to do so today. Despite that, I will agree with William S. Burroughs: “Anything you can do with drugs, you can do without.”

You can seriously trip balls, and possibly even trigger DMT release in your brain, without ever ingesting any of these substances. The difference, however, is in duration – and the active guidance of the substance as a type of consciousness in its own right. Additionally, there is normally a whole-lot of horse-shit that gets tossed around on the subject of intoxicants that revolves around non-drug activities being “healthy,” whereas the taking of the drugs themselves is “dangerous.”

This is not to say that taking these compounds or chemicals or alkaloids is not dangerous. It can be, and often is. But this makes it no less dangerous than a great many occult rituals, or even driving your car (which unlike some drugs, at least, can kill you if you are unwise).

These compounds are not new. They have a designed function. They serve a purpose, and can even help us. While the set of the community that wants to “mainstream” Polytheism and neo-Paganism keeps insisting on discarding the knowledge of entheogens, their history, and their potential (and present) use, it is unfortunately a type of ignorance that can and will continue to bite us all in the ass.

At present, we do not even know how many (and it's possible that some are) Spagyric compounds (such as the salts) and elixirs are psychoactive. Should psychoactive compounds be revealed to be present in such things, it would quite literally change the way a great many see the subject of alchemy. (Which, at present, is unfortunately over-loaded with “psychologically valid” conjectures due to CG. Jung never actually practicing lab alchemy – as far as I know – before he wrote about the subject.)

In a world where just performing a ritual can straight-up get you stoned (and if that fails, try music!), isn't about the time we started investigating the mechanisms that nature has put in place and which cause alterations in our consciousness? Our history – whether some individuals realize it or not – coincides with the history of “altered states,” and that includes using entheogens and alkaloids to trigger such states!

I should like to take a moment to link to both Ryan Valentine, and Gordon's, discussions on the subject. It wasn't for individuals like those two, I would probably be unable to write about the subject at all and chalk it up to wasting my time entirely...

You can probably expect me to write a whole lot more on it in the next few years. And nothing as basic as the above. Consider this a semi-failed blog-entry, which I apologize for.


* From Latin “Alkali” and the Arabic “al-qalwī,” the ashes of plants. If this suggests Spagyric Alchemy to you, then I believe you are totally on the right track. Cross-reference with Alkahest.
** See page 249-250.
*** See page 303-304
**** Initially, I wrote that I recalled the DARP-32 pathways were over-active in Schizophrenics; this is apparently not the case, and so I've edited my comment to reflect that. Edited: 9/18/12
**** Final note: Ergot may have been the psychoative ingredient in Kykeon. If ample evidence of this theory is found, it may be rediscovered that the psychonauts of today are little different from the “holy men” of yesterday...

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I have noticed a profoundly psychedelic state of consciousness from ingestion of my spagyrics - to the point of utter wonder and surprise at the duration (about a week straight) at the peak of my ritual ingestion of the entire spectrum of the planetary tincture/salt combos. I have thought of it as making my own very personalized "drugs" ever since. I thank you for your blog post, as I am happy to see that others are also making this association. Cheers, Hibiscus