Cody Noconi of the Psilly Rabbits Podcast on whether entheogens and psychedelics lead to deep spirituality.
photo by: Skeptiko
[Joe Rogan] My first DMT experience changed everything I thought about the world.
The Joe Rogan podcast you’re listening to is hugely popular…
[Graham Hancock] So that’s the aliens, an utterly alien realm, filled with alien intelligences who communicate, and of course, the skeptics say, “Oh, it’s all just made up in your brain, but we don’t know that.”
This interview with Graham Hancock drew millions of listeners.
It’s quite a statement regarding how far our culture has come in trying to understand the relationship between psychedelics and consciousness…
[Spiral Out 90704] Let’s go to YouTube, Spiral Out 90704 coming at you.
But this next clip may be even more remarkable.
[Spiral Out 90704] In one of my videos, there was a comment left asking me if I could make a video explaining why I don’t use entheogens any longer.
It’s from SpiralOut90704 and was published for the benefit of his 342 subscribers. It’s titled, ‘Why I no longer use entheogens’, and while the numbers may not be as impressive as the Joe Rogan interview with Graham Hancock, the thousands of trip reports available on YouTube may be an even more significant statement about what’s going with entheogens in our culture.
But what does it all mean and what are we supposed to do? Graham?
[Graham Hancock] Can we use changes in consciousness to understand the majestic complexity of the universe in which we live? And I think the answer is definitely yes.
[Spiral Out 90704] People need to understand that the mind is a very fragile thing, it can be bent in so many strange directions and some people’s mind can’t be bent as much as others and remain intact.
Stick around for a show on entheogens and my interview with Cody Noconi.
Coming up next on Skeptiko…
Alex Tsakiris: Today we welcome Cody Noconi to Skeptiko. Cody is the creator and co-host of the Psilly Rabbits podcast. Psilly Rabbits is kind of a play on the idea of psilocybin, which is one of the things that Cody is very interested in talking about and bringing to people on his very interesting and relatively new podcast.
Alex Tsakiris: And you guys will have to just tell people, if they check out your podcast, it isn’t like your usual kind of psychonaut, trippy, “Hey man,” I mean it’s like really intellectual and academic and you get all of these really smart people on there and there’s a lot of references to academic papers and research. So, that’s part of the angle that you bring to it, right Cody?
Cody Noconi: Yeah, thank you. I’m an avid reader, as is my wife, and there’s a lot of misinformation in the community right now. I think people tend to latch onto information that falls in line with their worldview and part of the reason why we started the podcast was to, kind of help sort out the bad information from the good information and just help people move forward responsively.
Alex Tsakiris: Wow, that sounds like a real Skeptiko kind of ethos, I love it.
So here’s what I thought we’d do, speaking of kind of Skeptiko ethos process. I have this process that I’ve kind of formalized over the years, but really kind of crystallized it into a formula in the last few episodes and it’s three steps: follow the data, look for the conspiratorial angle and in this case, as we had some really interesting stuff there, and then third, find the deep spirituality and I think all three of those are going to fit in perfectly with this topic of entheogens and psychedelics.
So, maybe a place to start is let’s make sure that our definitions are clear. Tell me what you think we’re talking about, when we talk about psychedelics and when we talk about entheogens.
Cody Noconi: Well, it definitely gets problematic for an experience that’s so ineffable to try and put it into small mouth noises, but psychedelics, as we kind of understand them today, I think is generally associated with drug use in the 1960s and the whole hippy movement and what not. The term entheogen was coined in, I think, ’79 by Carl Ruck and Jonathan Ott and I think Hoffman as well, to kind of distinguish a different form of substance use that delineated from drug use. I think the biggest thing is intention when it comes to the difference between psychedelics and entheogen use, this intent to illicit an experience with the divine or some type of mystical spiritual experience.
Alex Tsakiris: So, let me twist things a little bit on the access here and talk about that definition I had before and the word I was picking out, this apparent expansion of consciousness. Because, one thing I picked up on in that quote, and I agree with all the great stuff that they’re doing and heck, I mean, the field was totally abandoned for the longest time, so it’s awesome that researchers are coming in and availing themselves to these medicines, these substances and seeing what they do, because we do have so many reports that they can be beneficial. At the same time, I do hesitate a little bit at the kind of underlying, philosophical, kind of brain based approach that they’re taking. One of the very first things that the guy says in that clip I played is, “Hey, it does appear the psilocybin is breaking through the brain,…” kind of structure and this and that.
So again, they’re going to be packing this back into the current neurological model that consciousness is brain based. Is that okay? Are there limits to that? What might those limits be? What are your thoughts on that?
Cody Noconi: I think psychedelics are a great way of showing us what we don’t know and when it comes to the materialistic, kind of brain based model of consciousness, I think this is a nice bridge for the nonmaterialists or the people that are uncomfortable with the materialistic model. I think it allows for an empirical view at consciousness or the nature of consciousness. It allows for a repeatable experience, but there is still this kind of mystical, ineffable quality that people have a really hard time articulating until they’ve had the experience themselves, a lot like near-death experience. I know you do a lot of research in that field as well.
Alex Tsakiris: But even in the process, when we talk about it in that way… I think a lot of people are going to feel like they have one foot on the deck and one foot in the boat, in terms of, now we’re trying to apply very materialistic sounding processes and controls and those kinds of things, to something that, by Rick [Strassman]’s definition and by the definition of many experiencers, completely doesn’t fit within that paradigm, right? So we say, “Okay, take this dose, in this setting and you will achieve this.” And then we have a bunch of people who are, kind of on the other side of the consciousness issue and saying, as Rick did, “Hey there’s this whole other realm that we don’t understand. We don’t understand therefore what this realm is. We don’t understand”, like you mentioned a minute ago, “what our reality really is anymore.”
So, doesn’t that lead to some fundamental questions about what’s 95%, what does that mean? What is 7 grams or 5 micrograms, whatever the substance? What does any of that mean? And we’ll talk about that, I think, later when we talk about the deep spirituality, but let’s stay grounded in the, kind of material, medical world for a minute and… do you get what I’m talking about in terms of this, kind of way we struggle with, kind of backdoor materialism, when we’re talking about expanded consciousness?
Cody Noconi: I do think it is hard to science certain aspects of this, for sure. Like I said, my first experience, I didn’t follow any guidelines. I didn’t really have any intent of having any kind of mystical experience; that just happened on its own, I think, like neuroscientists who talk about our reality just being one massive hallucination, or our perception of reality being an hallucination and that these chemicals just act as like filtering mechanisms or inhibiting these filtered mechanisms in our brain.
Alex Tsakiris: Take this dose, like this and just see what happens and forget about the philosophical implications of what that means for the larger question of, what the heck is consciousness, what is our relationship to this consciousness field, or whatever we want to call it?
Cody Noconi: I think there’s a definite move in the psychedelic research field to try and legitimize this socially and the way they’re doing that is through science and, kind of approaching this from a clinical aspect.
I’m personally of the opinion, it doesn’t really matter. I think we’re too early in the research to be able to come to any conclusion about what it is and what matters to me is, you can have the experience, is it real, is it just chemicals in your brain? I really don’t care.
I spent my entire life in a religious household. Like I said, I spent a large portion of my life actually, genuinely search for a mystical experience and when I kind of stumbled upon it with LSD, it was so profoundly indescribable that when I came out of it I didn’t really care if it was real or not. The fact is I had it and the fact is I could have it again. I don’t know if that helps to answer your question.
Alex Tsakiris: I think it does. I think that’s very good.
So, I’ll tell you what, let’s move onto the second part of my little process here and that is, as I like to say, look for the conspiracy. For some folks they may not think there’s much there, but man, there is a lot there.
So, let me start with this. I don’t know what you know or what your opinion is on this, so that’s going to be kind of fun to explore it together. Cody, tell me what you know about MKUltra.
Cody Noconi: Honestly, not much. I know it’s a government mind control program that was instituted, I think in the early 50s at first and there were different iterations of it. I know there were a few different Ultra programs that kind of got pushed back in the limelight when MKUltra came out and they kind of used MKUltra as a way of, “Nothing going on here, nothing going on. We’ve taken care of the problem.” I know there was a lot of people in the psychedelic community, in their early days, have been accused of being involved with that or helping the CIA with their mind control experiments.
We kind of touch on this in the paper on Mormonism. We were intentionally gentle and nice about it, but there’s a lot of evidence that Joseph Smith, flat out, was just using this as a mind control agent and he was just drugging his congregation.
Alex Tsakiris: So this is Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon religion. Give us the date and give us, maybe just a brief sketch of what you discovered.
Cody Noconi: Well, it’s well-known in Mormon history that Joseph Smith, in his early teen years, had a career as a ceremonial magician. He was king of running around with these guys who, it was a popular hobby to go out in the middle of the night and treasure dig or use ceremonial necromantic rites to raise treasure guardian spirits that would tell you where treasures were and what not.
Later in his career, before he starts the church, there’s a lot of evidence that his parents and he and the treasure diggers were using psychedelic plant medicines in their treasure digging and magical rites and then later, when they started their church, in 1830, Joseph Smith and the hierarchy spread the message around, and you kind of see these tendrils of psychedelic use reach… as the missionaries approach new areas, you see evidence of psychedelics being used, especially in Kirtland. Just a year after the church was founded there’s a doctor in Kirtland Ohio who was accusing the Mormons of drugging their congregation in their sacrament practices.
Similarly, I think that there’s a great conjunction between, like magical or hypnotic practices or mesmerism used with or in conjunction with psychedelics, that kind of ups the ante, it just amps everything up to eleven and I think that’s what the CIA was interested in; they were trying to create the perfect spy, whereas Joseph Smith was trying to create the perfect parishioner.
Alex Tsakiris: I think that’s a great lead-in, in some ways, but I don’t know that we can limit it to that, I mean, your point is extremely well taken about this interleaving and overlaying of the occult, of magic practices, of mind control and of these substances, right in there. I mean, Jack Parsons, Aleister Crowley, they’re directly tied into the very early stages of before MLUltra, because they were looking at this stuff way before the 50s, right? But Jack Parsons…
Cody Noconi: Yeah and they were both using psychedelics too.
Alex Tsakiris: They’re using whatever they can get their hands on and they’re not afraid of using, you know, demonology, magic practices, whatever and part of it is understandable in that they feel that there’s a threat. I mean, as soon as you know this stuff is out there, if you are a protector of our freedom, then you have to say, “Hey, how can this be used against us?” So, it’s a defensive thing, at least that’s how it’s always sold to us, but as we all know, the crossover between defensive and offensive is often just a transparent flip of the switch.
But this leads into an interesting kind of thing to pull apart. So your Mormonism investigation, I think, ties right into this conspiratorial mind control: “Let’s have our guard up’ about what’s really going on when we play around with these expanded, extended consciousness realms, given that we don’t really know what these realms are and what we’re getting into.” Do you have any concerns or apprehension about that?
Cody Noconi: Yeah, I’d actually borrow an argument from the gun community and say that a hammer can be used to build a shelter for your family and it can also be used to destroy that same shelter and kill your family. It just depends on how you want to use that tool, and you have to be responsible, you have to know how to use it and you have to educate yourself.
Again, that’s kind of why we started the podcast: it was just to pass out the good info from the bad info and there’s a lot of it out there and I think in order to responsibly use these tools we have to appreciate that they can be used for nefarious purposes as well as beneficial ones.
You were talking about MKUltra, this gets a little conspiratorial, but there’s some evidence that Charles Manson and Timothy McVeigh were involved in the MKUltra experiments and maybe that’s why they did what they did.
Alex Tsakiris: Well, Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, it’s known, it’s documented. We just don’t know all the records, because they’re sealed and all the rest of that, but they were doing whatever they could and then, when the experiments went wrong, and we don’t even know if they went wrong or if that’s what their intent was, they wound up with some very strange kind of things coming out it. And they also seem to be kind of balancing, undecided, playing both sides, in terms of what we were talking about earlier, in terms of the mind equals brain, materialistic consciousness is an illusion side, which says, “Oh, we have these chemicals. We can give them to people and our biological robots will act this way,” versus these other people on the other side who are going, “Hey dude, this is magic man, this is completely of a different realm and there’s these spiritual entities that are getting involved, in a way that you don’t even understand. So forget your biological robots.”
This, I know, is a lot for people to hold in their head, but this is the space we’re in, because this was always an ongoing debate, even within the clandestine, deep state exploration of this. That’s my read of it, do you have any opinion on that?
Cody Noconi: Yeah. I think, like I said with the tools, it can be used for anything and I think of a culture like Central America, you find it being used for divination and diagnosis and healing, you find it in hunting rites and they’re also drugging up slaves and cutting their hearts out on top of pyramids. I think you can use these substances any way you really put your mind to, and because they appear to expand our consciousness, perhaps that makes us a little malleable.
They can also be used as deprograming agents, I think that’s why eventually the government kind of threw out their LSD experiments, because it was kind of hard to dial in which result you would get, and again, that kind of goes to the inability to really science these things, because even when you give somebody this dose, in this setting and they have this intent, sometimes the trip goes sideways, you know?
Alex Tsakiris: I think that’s well said and I like how you’re bringing in the cross-cultural part because I want to return in a later show to this issue of the conspiracy, in particular the deep state MKUltra thing and I have to credit Joe Atwell, who’s a guy I have a lot of respect for and he really turned me onto some of this with Wasson and Pedraich and we’ll talk about that later but… I’m sorry. We’ll talk about that in another episode of Skeptiko because you’ve really done a nice job and I’ve, kind of dragged you into an area that isn’t your expertise. But then again, kind of it is, because I like the way you connected it to the Joseph Smith stuff, but what you just brought on the table kind of brings an interesting connection with another guy, who I think has had some interesting things to say on that and that’s Gordon White, who we both know and does that excellent Rune Soup podcast, and he’s just had a very interesting interview with a woman and…
Cody Noconi: Bia Labate.
Alex Tsakiris: Bia Labate, there you go, awesome, and Gordon did a great interview with her, and one of the things that came out of that interview and it was like a throwaway point that went in a different direction, that I thought was so interesting, is she goes, “Okay, I’ve tried to trace this back as far as I can,” in the kind of anthropological sense, in terms of the use of this, and it ties in directly to what you’re saying Cody. She was, “Hey, the first use was in warfare, to see if our enemies were going to attack and how to attack them,” and you go, “Wow, wait a minute, I thought we were talking about spiritual, you know, stuff, and now you’re saying it’s about warfare, that was the first documented use of it, that we can pull from the record or hunting or all of this other stuff?”
So again, maybe we have to look at our cultural overlay, in terms of the spirituality connection with this, and you just talked about that, but maybe you want to expound on it a little bit.
Cody Noconi: One thing my wife is particularly interested in – she’s Amanda on the podcast – she has a theory that this is the… well, it’s not her theory, she’s expanding on it, but that this is the origin of sacrament, this practice of ingesting a substance, or ingesting a substance that elicits this experience of mysticism in a religious setting, is a particular interest. But if you go back much earlier, again, like you said, you see it being used in warfare and hunting. Some have postulated that agriculture was actually used to… Some of these substances are highly variable and susceptible to seasonal and predations and different variables that leave them, either seasonally or annually unavailable.
Alex Tsakiris: To that end I have one more clip that I wanted to play for us and it’s from former Harvard University professor and former colleague of probably the most famous founder or mover in the psychedelic movement, Dr. Timothy Leary and that would be, Dr. Richard Alpert, better known as Ram Dass.
So, let me play, for folks, this clip from Ram Dass about his experience in introducing LSD to his spiritual master, Neem Karoli Baba, who is this barefoot sage that he meets in India and immediately feels is the source of… his spiritual guide, his everything and somebody who, many thousands or hundreds of thousands of people have identified as being this significant spiritual, saintly kind of figure that is Neem Karoli Baba.
So, here Ram Dass is talking about giving LSD to Neem Karoli Baba. Here goes…
I was thinking, “This is going to be pretty interesting, you know?” And nothing happens at all, nothing. So, I go back to the states and I tell everybody that this guy took 900 micrograms and nothing happened, because I mean, this is our medicine, I’m impressed, you know? But, in the back of my mind is the gnawing question, do you suppose he really swallowed it? Maybe he veiled my mind and threw it over his shoulder or something like that, you know? But I don’t know.
So I come back to India two years later and I find him after about six months and he says to me, the first time I come up to him he says, “Did you give me some medicine last time you were in India?” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “Did I take it?” I said, “I think so.” He said, “What happened?” I said, “Nothing.” “You got any more of that medicine?” So I said, “Yeah.” So I brought out… and I had five pills, 300 each, and one of them was broken, he wouldn’t take the broken one, he took the four others and he took each one and he stuck it on his tongue, and he made absolutely sure that I saw that he took it all in. Then he said, “Can I have water,” and I said, “Yeah,” I said, “It doesn’t matter.” So, he called for water and he drank some water, he said, “Will it make me crazy?” I said, “Probably.” And at one point he went under his blanket and then he came back down looking absolutely mad, like… and I thought, “What have I done to this poor old man? He doesn’t understand the power of our medicine and he probably did throw it over his shoulder last time and I’ve trapped him into taking it. Oh my god, how can I live with this?”
Then, when he had me totally paranoid, he laughed in glee and nothing happened. And then he said, “These were known about thousands of years ago”, he said, “in the Indus Valley”, he said, “but”, he said, “most of that’s been forgotten.”
Now, Yogis don’t do the preparations for this kind of experience anymore. They did fasting and they did things before this.
Alex Tsakiris: So, we’ll let Ram Dass kind of fade out there. There’s a lot to pull apart there, that I think relates to this discussion we want to have on deep spirituality.
First, and this is a point that’s easy to gloss over, is we’re talking about a psi effect here, if you will, that is way beyond what we accept, and that is this, reading of the mind, right? So his guru, Neem Karoli Baba, is reading his mind and knows that he has had this kind of question about this substance. So, already we’re kind of moonshot out of the kind of ordinary experience.
Then two, obviously, the point of the story as it relates to psychedelics, is these psychedelics don’t affect him because, we are to assume, and that’s implied, his consciousness is developed in a way that allows him to choose what realm he moves into and out of and how that all works.
Again, it gets to, what we’re talking about, Cody, in terms of, what is really going on and what is this experimentation really all about?
Then thirdly, he kind of says, very matter of factly, “Oh well, they’re medicine and they used to be around and we’ve forgotten how to use it and it can still be useful,” but I just think this is a clip that launches us into this discussion in so many angles about what is the deep spirituality of these substances.
So, with that, let me pull you in and say, what do you take out of that?
Cody Noconi: I think you’re correct, or I agree with you in your reading that the Maharaja was an advanced being or he had trained his mind, however you want to explain it. His mind was just able to flow in and out of states of reality that other people – we hard cases – do not normally get to experience or see.
There’s a… a can’t remember his name at the moment, there’s a visionary artist who has a tumor on his pineal gland and his art is stunning, it looks like the DMT experience.
I think there are people, like on the natch, can get to these spaces and these spaces, when I say that, this is very nuanced, it seems like different drugs can take you to different places, different intent, different meditation, there’s so many variables to this and we’ve only scratched the surface research wise, it’s really hard to nail down how any of this works.
But like, with Neem Karoli Baba, I think the most interesting is, it just didn’t work on him and I personally have never seen anybody that could take 1200 micrograms and be unaffected.
I think the interesting thing for me, and for people that maybe are first hearing about this, is for those of us who aren’t Neem Karoli Baba, for those of us who are maybe a bit more hard-headed or have not expanded our consciousness or are not as advanced as him, we can use these chemicals to maybe get a glimpse at that side of things, or how maybe he perceives reality all the time.
Alex Tsakiris: What about that rather famous quote from Alan Watts, another psychonaut who had this to say about psychedelic experience. I love this. “When you get the message, hang up the phone.” That’s what kind of connects me to the Neem Karoli Baba thing.
What do you think Alan Watts meant and how does that kind of inform you or inform this experience for you personally?
Cody Noconi: I take that quote as highlighting integration. I think, a lot of the times, when you have a really profound experience, it takes a lot time to just pull it apart and dissect it and, “What the hell does this all mean?”
I think, after my first LSD experience, I think it was over a year before I did it again, just because it was so… it took me a long time to pull that apart.
A big problem I see right now, with the psychedelic community and not to make any major judgments, but I think people tend to use these substances a little too often and don’t take time to ‘hang up the phone’ like you said. I’m sure Alan Watts picked up the phone from time to time, but you don’t need to be on the line the whole time, I think is his point.