131. Dr. Rick Strassman On Whether Psychedelic Drugs Prove We Are More Than Our Brain

Noted DMT researcher Dr. Richard Strassman describes how DMT allows consciousness to enter an out-of-body, freestanding, independent realm of existence.

dmt_spirit_moleculeJoin Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris for an interview with Dr. Rick Strassman, author of, DMT – The Spirit Molecule.  As a researcher at the University of New Mexico Dr. Strassman received approval to inject volunteers with a psychedelic drug called DMT and  evaluate the effects. According to Strassman, “the most interesting results were that high doses of DMT seemed to allow the consciousness of our volunteers to enter an out-of-body, freestanding, independent realm of existence, inhabited by beings of light who oftentimes were expecting the volunteers and with whom the volunteers interacted.”

During the interview Mr. Tsakiris and Dr. Strassman discuss whether DMT-based psychedelic experiences provide evidence that our consciousness exists outside of the brain:

Alex Tsakiris: Virtually all of the near-death experience researchers, come to the conclusion sooner or later that consciousness must exist outside of the brain. How do we process that?

Dr. Richard Strassman: Well, it isn’t a new idea. Obviously spiritual traditions have believed it and taught it and have practiced it. It is a new idea within the Western scientific model, so one of the analogies that I make in the DMT book is the brain is a receiver as opposed to a generator of a particular channel of consciousness, Channel Normal, as it were.

Under extreme situations then the channel switches and as a result of being given DMT is the brain is now able to perceive channels of information that it couldn’t before. If you change your perspective on the relationship between the brain and consciousness then things start to become a bit clearer, but at the same time have been more mind-boggling, too.

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Welcome to Skeptiko, where we explore controversial science with leading researchers, thinkers, and their critics. I’m your host, Alex Tsakiris.

Today we welcome Dr. Rick Strassman, author of DMT – The Spirit Molecule, a fascinating book about his research with a psychedelic drug that causes some amazing out-of-body spiritual experiences. Here’s my interview with Rick:

Alex Tsakiris: All the folks, virtually all of the near-death experience researchers, come to the conclusion sooner or later that consciousness must exist outside of the brain. How do we process that?

Dr. Richard Strassman: Well, it isn’t a new idea. Obviously spiritual traditions have believed it and taught it and have practiced it. It is a new idea within the Western scientific model, so one of the analogies that I make in the DMT book is the brain is a receiver as opposed to a generator of a particular channel of consciousness, Channel Normal, as it were.

Under extreme situations then the channel switches and as a result of being given DMT is the brain is now able to perceive channels of information that it couldn’t before. If you change your perspective on the relationship between the brain and consciousness then things start to become a bit clearer, but at the same time have been more mind-boggling, too.

Alex Tsakiris: Today we welcome Dr. Richard Strassman, author of DMT – The Spirit Molecule. Rick is also a distinguished academic and researcher, having received an MD in psychiatry, a Postgraduate Fellowship in Pharmacology and having a distinguished teaching and research career at the University of New Mexico.  Rick, welcome to Skeptiko.

Dr. Richard Strassman: Thanks for having me.

Alex Tsakiris: I want to jump right into the middle of this. I was just saying in the little bit of time we had before this interview, I’m sure a lot of people are familiar with your work and particularly this book about DMT. If they’re not, then they’re going to have to kind of brush up on it on their own because we’re going to jump into the middle of this. But let me give a very short introduction, and correct anything that I might get wrong.

In the 1990s you were a researcher at the University of New Mexico and you received approval, which is an amazing story in itself, to inject volunteers with this psychedelic drug, DMT, and then to evaluate the effects. Here’s part of what you said about the results of those experiments. This is a quote from you in another interview I found. It’s a great quote.

“The most interesting results were that high doses of DMT seemed to allow the consciousness of our volunteers to enter an out-of-body, freestanding, independent realm of existence, inhabited by beings of light who oftentimes were expecting the volunteers and with whom the volunteers interacted.”

Alex Tsakiris: So correct me if any of that’s wrong. Also, if you want to elaborate on that, that’s quite a lot for people to wrap their minds around right from the beginning.

Dr. Richard Strassman: Right, right. Well, that’s pretty much the case. It’s true, everything you said. That’s a good summary, too, actually.

Alex Tsakiris: So tell us a little bit about that research. I’m sure you’ve done that a million times, but the elevator speech-what was that all about?

Dr. Richard Strassman: I performed my studies between 1990 and 1995 and ostensibly it was a study to investigate effects and the mechanisms of action of a drug of abuse, which was DMT. I had ulterior motives, though, at the same time. These were to understand better the biology of spiritual experience, especially naturally-occurring spiritual experience, which might take place through meditation or as a result of a close brush with death. Even psychotic states sometimes partake of spiritual properties.

I was drawn to DMT because it’s a naturally-occurring compound in the human body. It also occurs in every other mammal which has been investigated to date. It also is found in either hundreds of plants or even thousands of plants. So as a candidate for a compound in a human body which could produce a mystical or spiritual experience, DMT seemed like a reasonable candidate.

Along the lines of the ulterior motives for my study I was interested in comparing the responses to giving DMT to people to descriptions of spontaneous spiritual experiences which occur without the drug. If I was able to determine significant overlaps or similarities in those two states, then to that extent I could argue for the possibility of involvement of andoginous DMT in those spontaneous, non-drug induced experiences.

Alex Tsakiris: I’m just going to interject. One thing I found interesting is you said that you hope your work-and I don’t know if this was at the time or later-but it might break down the dichotomy between the spiritual and the physical. I think that’s a very, very interesting point and I want to get into that.

But I just want to frame up the DMT research one little bit more and have you comment on it because what your research wound up doing, and I don’t know if this was your intent or not, but to a certain degree you provided independent confirmation of some aspects of this experience that many indigenous people around the world for hundreds of years have talked about.

A lot of people know about Iowaska and the Amazon and that people who experience Iowaska have the experience that you just talked about, leaving the body for another realm. What really intrigued me was it seems like where your research led you, and I guess the question is, did you see this coming that DMT seemed to lift the veil to some kind of inner dimensional reality that we don’t understand? Did you at all see that coming when you started this research?

Dr. Richard Strassman: Well, I kind of did and I kind of didn’t. I was more expecting the kinds of experiences more typical of Zen enlightenment experiences, without form, without ideas, without concepts, without images. Also without an interacting sense of self.

And I think a lot of the current interest in brain/spirituality issues either consciously or unconsciously is taking on kind of a Buddhist point of view, which is all of this spiritual content is a product of the mind as opposed to being perceived by the mind.

The part I didn’t expect was the more interactive ego maintenance types of experiences which were full of content and full of images. You know, the personality of the volunteer could still interact quite willfully with what was going on in their DMT state. So it was a spiritual experience for the volunteers but the type of spiritual experience or the quality of it was what caught me unaware.

Alex Tsakiris: I think I heard you say that you found it surprising that it was relational…

Dr. Richard Strassman: Right.

Alex Tsakiris: …versus that unifying all through nothing kind of Buddhist kind of interpretation of it. Do you want to elaborate on that?

Dr. Richard Strassman: Yeah. The experience of enlightenment, to what I understand of it anyway, is it’s unformed and uncreated and un-interacting in a way. You interact with it but the interaction is more of a beholding and a merging as opposed to willfully making decisions about what to ask and how to respond to these entities or being which one perceives in the DMT state.

Alex Tsakiris: I want you to dig into that a little bit. For the skeptical-minded folks that come and say, “What do you mean that’s reality-based?” I mean we’ve got a bunch of problems in pulling that apart. It’s all subjective, but then we do have this consensus reality that people can come back and report a lot of things that are similar. We say, “Yeah, that’s real.” Tear that apart. What do you mean these DMT experiences were real?

Dr. Richard Strassman: That’s a good question. There are a number of criteria. One is a sense of temporal continuity, both in what’s going on in that state-in other words, B follows A and C follows B-and you can track what’s going on in the world around you. That’s one of the criteria, anyway. Also there’s the maintenance of a sense of self in that state so that also is a criteria which is mapped, I think, in the DMT state.

Ultimately, though one kind of ends up defining what’s real based on overall gestalt of it feeling real. Does this feel real compared to other real experiences that somebody’s had? Ultimately that was the criterion on which the DMT volunteers based their statement of the DMT state being so real.

They even described it as being more real than real. They could clearly distinguish it from a dream or other kinds of auditory or visual types of unusual experiences which they may have had in the past. But also compared to everyday reality it just felt more real than their everyday reality.

Alex Tsakiris: Okay, so reality we kind of covered. What about the other word we’ve been kicking around, spiritual? Are DMT experiences by nature spiritual? Do they always create a spiritual experience? What is a spiritual experience? How do we define that?

Dr. Richard Strassman: Oh, well, Aristotle defined spiritual as non-corporeal, non-physical. In some ways that’s a good start because the kinds of experiences that the DMT volunteers underwent were the perceptions and interactions with non-corporeal things.

Most of the time, people don’t think of light as corporeal. I suppose you can but most of the time as compared to things like wood or stone or things like that, light is incorporeal or relatively incorporeal. Also, spiritual experience in some ways is an extension, like a qualitative extension of everyday reality. There are more intense emotions as opposed to being happy or feeling sad is ecstasy or terror. So those are more quantitative changes relative to everyday experience.

Alex Tsakiris: The whole discussion here about reality versus spiritual brings us back to this earlier snippet of a quote I had from you where you said you hoped your work will break down the dichotomy between the spiritual and the physical. I think that’s what you’re doing right here in this description.

Do you want to elaborate on that a little bit and take a little further why we would want to? Why is that a good idea? Why are we headed toward breaking down the dichotomy between the spiritual and the physical?

Dr. Richard Strassman: There are a couple of elements to your question. If you think about DMT, it’s a drug; it’s a chemical and we understand its mechanisms in the brain. At the same time, it is a chemical which seems to provide access to spiritual states of consciousness or at least states of consciousness which have traditionally been considered spiritual. So it’s kind of a transitional point. That’s the reason I call it the Spirit Molecule. It’s kind of a paradox in a way. Spirit is non-corporeal and the molecule is corporeal.

Alex Tsakiris: Let’s talk about NDEs a little bit because near-death experience research is a topic we’ve covered a lot on this show. It seems to me to really get at the heart of some of these issues regarding consciousness and spirituality.

My read of this research from the folks that I’ve talked with on this show seems to indicate that it’s highly suggestive that consciousness continues after clinical death. Or at least after some point at which the brain is not the way we normally think of a brain, without blood flow, without electricity and all that stuff.

So what is your understanding in terms of where NDE research is going? And how it fits with what you’ve discovered in your work with DMT.

Dr. Richard Strassman: So the whole issue of NDEs is interesting because I was actually anticipating a lot more of the classical kinds of near-death experiences in my volunteers than actually took place. I was speculating that the occurrence would be a lot more common because of some speculations that I had put forth about ability of stress-related release of DMT at the time of death. That’s purely speculative at this point but still I was able to marshal substantial evidence suggesting that DMT could possibly increase as a result of stress which occurs as you’re approaching death.

The issue of consciousness existing after somebody dies is an important issue, obviously, with all kinds of implications for morality and how we behave when we are alive. If our DMT research is any indication, it does seem that it is possible for consciousness to exist without being conscious of the body, anyway.

One of the extremely common experiences in the DMT work was that after an injection of DMT, the consciousness of the volunteer left the body. The internal pressure of the state was such that it just couldn’t be contained in the body anymore. Almost everybody in response to a large dose of DMT felt their body unable to contain the experience and their consciousness left the body. It was a disembodied consciousness that beheld the DMT experience or state.

Alex Tsakiris: That’s fascinating. But we have to probe that. What does that mean? It’s so totally overthrows our understanding of not only consciousness but what it means to be alive. What it means to be human. And yet, that is exactly my read of the near-death experience research and I’ve just had dozens of people on this show who aren’t familiar with the research and want to argue another point.

But virtually all of the near-death experience researchers come to the conclusion sooner or later that these experiences seem to be happening at a time when there is no brain, when they are clinically dead in the brain and therefore, consciousness must exist outside of the brain. How do we process that?

Dr. Richard Strassman: How do we process it? Well, it isn’t a new idea. Obviously the Tibetans have been talking about it for centuries. Spiritual traditions have believed it and taught it and have practiced it, getting people ready to die. So it isn’t a new idea.

It is a new idea within the Western scientific model, but still Ken Ring’s work and Moody’s work, that’s almost over 40 years old by now so it is establishing some presence within the scientific model of things. But still, how to understand it? So one of the analogies that I make in the DMT book is the brain is a receiver as opposed to a generator of a particular channel of consciousness, Channel Normal, as it were.

Under extreme situations then the channel switches and as a result of being given DMT the brain is now able to perceive channels of information that it couldn’t before. If you change your perspective on the relationship between the brain and consciousness then things start to become a bit clearer, but at the same time have been more mind-boggling, too.

Alex Tsakiris: Right. But it’s such an important leap to make. Now let’s jump over that chasm because it’s so much more fun on the other side to start speculating what that means and what this spiritual expanded consciousness might mean outside of this body, outside of this time frame that we’re in.

I guess the starting point for that would be to ask you about how this has shifted your experience spiritually, personally. What has your research done to you?

Dr. Richard Strassman: Kind of entering the study as a dyed-in-the-wool Zen Buddhist, I had over 20 years in experience and training and study in duo theodicies of the Zen monastery. And I was expecting those kinds of enlightenment experiences from people getting DMT. In a way, that view of things is a bit “scientific.” It posits that everything is a product of your mind as opposed to these experiences actually representing external, freestanding, other levels of reality. So I could kind of hold the Zen model of the mind and also the brain model of the mind in fairly good balance. They were pretty consistent with each other.

And as a result of my studies, that got overturned because the volunteers-even the ones with  meditation practice, Zen experience, they’d studied Buddhism, they were completely unprepared for the kinds of relational, non-unitive experiences that were much more typical of the effects of DMT.

So after my studies ended, I went back to the drawing board when it came to explanatory models. I toyed with other models, scientific models, to explain the freestanding, external reality basis of people’s experiences. I touched upon some of the ideas regarding dark matter and parallel universes and those kinds of concepts. And those were helpful in terms of explaining the mechanisms of action, let’s say.

At the same time, I even found those concepts and those models not that satisfactory because they were skirting around the issue of the spiritual. I suppose I’m speaking of spiritual in this context as to the information that’s contained in those states and what that information is good for.

Alex Tsakiris: Which is an important distinction, if I can just interject something? I think it’s a really important distinction to say we can jump on this other side and look at it really analytically, kind of at arm’s length. Or we can jump into the content and start pulling apart and putting back together the content in a way that makes sense.

I just think it’s really brave and interesting of you to go there. I think it’s brave for you to go there. But I also think it’s very interesting and opens up a lot of doors that I wish more people would do because whether it’s right or wrong, at least you’re taking a stab at it and saying if the science gets us to this point aren’t we obligated to then do some content analysis on the information we’re getting back from these experiences?

Dr. Richard Strassman: Right, exactly. The scientific models make sense but at the same time they really didn’t touch me in an emotional or “spiritual” kind of way. Like what does this mean? What good is it for? Is it going to make the world a better place? Is it going to help us make popcorn more quickly or generate world peace more quickly? You can always make a faster car and a bigger bomb but can you promote world peace and advocate for the poor and the widow?

So that’s when I began stepping out of both the scientific model and also in some ways the Buddhist model. The Buddhist model is useful to a certain point. It is a spiritual tradition and it’s got ethics and it’s got morals, but those come out of an undifferentiated state of enlightenment as opposed to being part and parcel of the actual spiritual experience.

As I was looking around for a tradition which made the ethical and the moral content part and parcel of this spiritual experience, I actually ended up back at the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament of my younger days as a child in Hebrew school. So over the last few years, I’ve been kicking around the idea of the Western spiritual pinnacle of spirituality as a prophetic state as described by the Old Testament prophets. If you read the accounts of Ezekiel or Isaiah or Jeremiah or Moses or any of these great characters in the Bible, their experiences are incredibly psychedelic. Also they comport quite closely with a number of the experiences of our DMT volunteers.

One of the strengths and the beauties of the Old Testament prophetic tradition is that the teaching, the experience, the words are in a Western context and also are just saturated with ethical and moral teachings. So I’ve been trying to pull together a psychedelic review of the Old Testament as the content of the current book I’m working on right now.

Alex Tsakiris: That’s fascinating and I want to go there a little bit. One of the points that you raise that sent you on this other journey towards Judaism is this unitive versus relational, and that’s you expected more of a Buddhist kind of know-nothing God and you found a relational, someone who’s there to guide you, some entity that you can interact with. That’s what your volunteers found.

It’s interesting because I compare that to what I’ve come to understand from the near-death experience, from reading a lot of accounts and talking to researchers. One of the things that struck me was that this unitive aspect of it seems to be primary in the near-death experience. There does seem to also be this relational part a lot of the time, but not all the time.

As a matter of fact, one of the leading researchers and a guy I really like because I like the way he presents, is Jeff Long, a radiation oncologist out of Louisiana, who has probably compiled and reviewed the largest database of near-death experiences. I was just speaking with him the other day and his follow-on book is about this unitive aspect of it and how the understanding that near-death experiencers come away with is this massively interconnected, that we’re all one, that there is this one light.

There is this one-now God may be getting into relational, but how do you pull that apart? How do you see that? Does that fit in with the experiences of your volunteers?

Dr. Richard Strassman: It isn’t consistent with the reports of my volunteers. I was just thinking about a book I read a couple of years back which talked about this issue. He put together a very cool book called, The Soul After Death, and he talked about the frequency of the white light experience in contemporary NDEs. He’s got an interesting take on it. There’s obviously a lot of different ways to interpret it.

He was comparing the quality of contemporary near-death experiences with those from a long time ago. They were much more terrifying and you’re judged and you go through Hell and you are attacked by demons and your faith is tested. So he proposes that one of the reasons that those experiences of the white light, especially ones with the emotional qualities of being loving and accepting and those kinds of things, are a result of contemporary spiritual perspectives.

Alex Tsakiris: I’ll certainly have to get Steven Rose on the show. He sounds like he’d be a great guest. Of course, I was raised Greek Orthodox. I’m like you. I can’t ever see myself going back to that religious tradition.

Dr. Richard Strassman: It’s a pretty scary tradition. He died a number of years back so you might have a hard time having him on your show.

Alex Tsakiris: Oh, wow, okay. I was going to interject that we will go on and talk about it because I’ll never have the opportunity to interview him. But I have to say that my understanding of near-death experience research would contradict that in a couple of ways.

One is that as the researchers have honed more in on the genuine death experience as opposed to the near-death, and that is they studied cardiac arrest patients and interviewed them immediately after the incident. They found much less of the scary NDEs; or I guess in general I can just say the quality of the NDE experience changed and it changed based on that dimension, which I think is interesting because that suggests that maybe some of those other interpretations and perceptions of the near-death experience had come through a more conscious state or reinterpretation of it.

But the other thing I’d say is when you look at it from a cultural perspective, which folks have done, and you analyze the near-death experience it doesn’t really hold up to the New Ageish feel-good-God. The data really kind of supports that model.

Dr. Richard Strassman: Yeah. And I didn’t completely agree with his perspective either because of the cross-cultural consistency, too. But it was an interesting spin on the friendly, white light and how commonly that’s encountered now-a-days as opposed to the harsh, judging, righteous God out there.

Alex Tsakiris: The whole thing gets back to this question that we just touched on here and that you raised in your work and that’s the degree to which our perception, our unique human experience, how that enters into our interpreting of the spiritual experience. Maybe you want to talk about that a little bit and how you found that in your volunteers. And also how that’s factored into your own spiritual quest since then.

And let me add to that. We’re kind of in this quandary because on one hand there’s such a prejudice against accepting people’s spiritual experiences. We tend to dismiss it. So many times in science we tend to dismiss it or downgrade it. And yet, at the same time there’s some evidence that suggests that we should be skeptical of even our own spiritual experience and we do need to compare it with others before we embrace it fully. Any thoughts on that?

Dr. Richard Strassman: In the case of most of my volunteers, they were not expecting the kinds of experiences that they ended up having. It was a relatively common refrain that I heard from the volunteers that they couldn’t have expected what their experience was like. They couldn’t have imagined it. They weren’t anticipating it at all that way. Most of them were actually going into the study with the expectation and also the hope of an enlightenment being kind of a Buddhist, white light type of experience. They were as caught off-guard and by surprise by the types of experiences they ended up having as much as I was.

Alex Tsakiris: Let’s drill into that a little bit because I have maybe glossed over some issues that are going to leave some people behind. A little bit of detail here might be interesting. So you have volunteers in New Mexico who don’t know anything about the DMT experiments; don’t know anything about Iowaska.

They have this experience and they see these reptilian beings that are similar to what these folks in the Amazon have seen for hundreds of years, right? You do have some kind of unexplainable correlation between what they’re experience is in terms of the beings, and these beings that indigenous people have experienced for a long time, right?

Dr. Richard Strassman: Yeah, and I performed my studies between 1990 and 1995 and Terrence McKenna’s stuff hadn’t really become quite as popular as it became consequently with respect to his descriptions of the sort of freestanding quality of the DMT world. I don’t think any of my volunteers were especially interested in UFOs or the abduction experience to any extent. Iowaska still hadn’t really emerged from the jungle as a popular cultural item.

Alex Tsakiris: Interesting. Let me shift back and talk about this prophecy work that you’re doing because it’s fascinating, it’s challenging at the same time. Here’s a quote from an article that I read of yours, an interview with you, and it says that you believe that “there’s tremendous power in the Old Testament Bible.” When you say that do you mean as opposed to the New Testament Bible? As opposed to the Badvagita, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, to other “sacred” scripture?

Dr. Richard Strassman: Oh, I suppose in terms of the Old Testament it’s an old book. Obviously it’s a couple thousand years old. It’s kind of what the New Testament stands on in a way. The New Testament relies upon the Old Testament as confirming Jesus as the Messiah and even in the Qur’an there’s quite a few instances of Old Testament stories in the Qur’an, either verbatim or reworked.

If you take into account all the Muslims, all the Christians, and all the Jews in the world, they’re close to one-half of the world’s population. And it’s got staying power, the Bible. It still has a tremendous amount of influence. The Hebrew Bible, I think its perspective has really influenced every aspect of the West. Western science, Western philosophy, Western law.

Alex Tsakiris: No one would argue any of those points with you but you seem to be going someplace different, someplace further. That’s okay. I just want to understand that. You seem to be bridging this gap between spiritual reality and the Bible. And that’s okay. I just want to understand what that means for you-what that bridge is like.

Dr. Richard Strassman: Well, sure. So the power of the Bible, I think, kind of hinges on the prophetic state of mind out of which the text emerged. The power isn’t just because it gives good advice about law or economics. Its good advice is as a result of the source of the information in the first place. That source of information is the prophetic state of consciousness, which I am going to argue is a psychedelic state with features in common with the DMT experience.

Alex Tsakiris: So the New Testament characters that we’re talking about Ezekiel and the rest, were having psychedelic experiences, going into these other realms, bringing back information that we might want to pay attention to and might be relevant to our current situation.

Dr. Richard Strassman: Yeah. Yeah for sure it’s relevant. I mean, everybody knows the story about Adam and Eve and Abraham and Isaac and the Red Sea and the Ten Commandments, all that. So they are relevant. But the issue is where did that information come from? Is it possible for us to understand it, to tap into it ourselves? That’s where the psychedelic element of the prophetic state comes into play.

If DMT is a naturally-occurring compound which occurs possibly as a result of extreme stress or one’s biological constitution being so composed that DMT could be released spontaneously more often in one person than another, you could speculate that it is related to what you could call a prophetic state of consciousness.

And if you want to understand your psychedelic experience in Western terms and applicable to the Western mind and the Western culture, the Bible could be an extremely helpful guidebook to understand your experiences and to shape them and to apply them more than a Shamanic model might be or an Eastern religious model might be.

Alex Tsakiris: Great. I was with you right up until the end. That end really surprised me. Why more than? If this has occurred the way that you think it’s occurred, isn’t it reasonable to assume that it’s occurred in other traditions in other places and other times around the planet?

Dr. Richard Strassman: Yeah. There’s no question. At the same time we’re not jungle dwellers and we’re not Asians, at least me and you. So we have the background and we have a language and we even have genes, I would imagine, which are uniquely Western. So I think with respect to the Western view of spirituality and Western culture and the Western mind, the Bible would be more applicable than Buddhism, or Hinduism or Shamanism just because those really aren’t our cultures. That’s not our parent’s culture, our grandparent’s culture, or our great-grandparent’s culture.

Alex Tsakiris: I hear you and nice points. Reclaim the Bible. Reclaim our tradition. I just want to make sure you’re not suggesting that that tradition is somehow superior, better, straighter path to true knowing ultimate Truth, anything like that, because there’s some preferred position or some preferred status that the Bible holds above other sacred texts.

Dr. Richard Strassman: No, no. I think it came out of the Middle East 3,000 years ago or more. So for people whose genes and his mind and his culture are direct descendants of that text, I think it could be more relevant.

It’s interesting to speculate regarding different naturally-occurring psychedelics. I have made reference to finding the Foxy DMT as more typically generating an enlightenment kind of experience. Kind of a unitive, into a conceptless, imageless kind of existence. So it’s interesting to wonder if the Asian religions, if their practitioners and founders, if their biologies may have slightly differed from that of the West in terms of producing more of one type of andoginous hallucinogen than another.

Alex Tsakiris: I don’t know. I don’t see how we quite get there given that India and the Buddhist tradition came out of the Hindu tradition. The Hindu tradition would be highly relational, I guess, in your model. I mean, mediated by all sorts of different beings that sound a lot like the DMT trips. So I don’t know.

Dr. Richard Strassman: That could be. And clearly the Tibetan tradition is quite full of beings and of deities and things like that. And if you scratch below the surface, I think you would find in the Tibetan tradition that those are completely or entirely understood as projections of the mind.

Alex Tsakiris: I agree and I think that’s my understanding of it. I wasn’t going to go there too far because I’m certainly not an expert, but my understanding of it is that. My understanding also is that the two are resolvable in that the beings in those other states that we realize are transitional states towards that unifying state.

So I don’t go there too far because I don’t have direct experience with it and also I just don’t have the knowledge base in it. But I think that if I talk to a Buddhist scholar, and I have talked to several on the show, I kind of got a feeling that the Tibetan Buddhist would be able to resolve those differences pretty easily.

Dr. Richard Strassman: Yeah. Getting back to your question about superiority or one is better than the other, I don’t think that’s the case. I think that the Bible has been relegated as a kind of non-psychedelic tradition and the Shamanic model and the Buddhist model have taken center stage when discussing the spiritual properties of psychedelics. So I’m going to be proposing the Bible as an alternative model, one that’s as useful as the other and depending on one’s propensities and interests and tastes it could be more relevant.

Alex Tsakiris: Fascinating. And Rick, it sounds like there’s a book in there. Is there? Is there an upcoming book on this?

Dr. Richard Strassman: Yeah. Actually I’m about a quarter of the way through with it. It’s called The Soul of Prophesy. I hope it’s out in about the end of the year. That’s my hope and I think I can pull it off.

Alex Tsakiris: Great. What other projects are keeping you busy these days?

Dr. Richard Strassman: Well, that’s it. I was working on the book full-time until June last year. I had a bunch of tragedies that took place in my life so I took a break over the summer, but I got back to writing pretty much full-time in October. So that’s pretty much all I’ve been doing.

Alex Tsakiris: It’s certainly been great having you on Skeptiko. It’s just a fascinating topic and what you’ve brought to it is really, really a gift to all of us. So thanks for all of your work in this area.

Dr. Richard Strassman: You’re welcome. Thanks for the opportunity to talk about these things.