Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Treating Depression with LSD: Cure or Hallucination (1/2)

I read a recent article in the New York Times about new research in treating depression with hallucinogenic agents (see I found the article – excuse the expression – mind-blowing. And I suffered a flashback to a time 50 years ago when I, in my youthful stupidity, took LSD on two occasions. One was a very bad trip and I decided the experience was not for me. After I did research on the effects of hallucinogens on the brain, I decided it was for no one.

I was under the impression that experimenting with mind-altering drugs was a thing of the past, along with The Sixties, Timothy Leary and Lucy In the Sky with Diamonds. And I thought the dangerous notion of treating mental disorders with hallucinogens had been discredited, or at least abandoned. But I was wrong. It seems like the old adage forever holds true: Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Today, there is a renewed interest in the use of hallucinogens to treat depression, accompanied by much hype, as The Times article indicates. I believe his resurgence is a sign, not of progress, but of our failure to understand brain science, and in particular, methylation. To say little about what is anxiety and depression, which they are studying.

The article published Dec. 1 in the Health section of The Times is titled, “A Dose of a Hallucinogen From a ‘Magic Mushroom,’ and Then Lasting Peace.” It reports on two experimental studies – at NYU’s Langone Medical Center and at Johns Hopkins University – in which cancer patients were given doses of psilocybin, an illegal hallucinogen. During the eight-hour sessions, patients were provided with eye masks, ear phones, programmed music, hospital setting, the whole panoply of the proper accouterments necessary for an “out of space,” serious experience. Their question: Can the drug reduce anxiety and depression in cancer patients?

The results: 80% of cancer patients “showed clinically significant reduction in psychologic disorders.” They often had mystical experiences which I would like to know much more about, because my explanation is quite different from those who write about it. Too often, in my previous research, those studying hallucinogens thought that mystical experiences were a good thing, beneficent and healthy. My view is different. It is dangerous for reasons to be explained in a moment.

  But what if the psychologic disorders and physical aberrations such as cancer, are essentially the same thing; stemming from the same source and originating during the same evolutionary time frame. We have seen this many times over in non-cancer patients, and have also seen it with cancer patients. We have seen serious psychologic afflictions such as anxiety making their appearance during the earliest time frame, during gestation and just after birth. We have also seen patients who have been reliving those very early times who have incipient, inchoate cancer. Our research has not gone as far as to justify a hypothesis about anxiety and cancer but in my papers I have alluded to the possible relationship between them. Our future research into early trauma and cancer will delve into it much more strenuously.

Here is an important result of the Langone study: “The intensity of the mystical experience correlated with the degree that their anxiety and depression decreased. Why is that? The usual statistical studies which should explain it, do not.

The results of both studies were also released concurrently in the Journal of Psychopharmacology (December 16, 2016). I saw no reports on the deleterious effects of this drug on patients, which to me, should be a sine qua non of any research: Can it do harm? The mystical experience these patients underwent seemed to me, based on my own research, to be signs of overload. That is, the unleashing of mountains of pain which is not always evident, even to the patient with pain. What seems to happen is that the gating system, charged with suppressing deep pain militates to where it is needed to control the level of pain. That is, to keep the system from being overwhelmed by the input. Heavy pain becomes a beacon to guide the pain to where it is needed, to aid repression and keep us unconscious. Nevertheless, the impact of high pain levels weakens the defense system so that further use of drugs can produce a crack in the gating system, leading to strange beliefs, such as being at one with Allah. These ideas, like many symptoms, are signs of overwhelming input. That is, when defenses falter, symptoms appear to absorb the input. These symptoms such as migraine headaches, or hallucinations, are indicative of too much input into the neurobiologic system.

The input happens when the repressive gates weaken, allowing accumulated pains from the start of life into higher levels. What also allows this to happen is the use of hallucinogens which blast open the gates, allowing far too much pain into the system. Normally these pains stay in the neurobiologic “cage.” Bur forcing drugs into the system allows the influx of historic early hurts to ramify throughout the body and brain. The gates give way. The result is serious cognitive aberrations, such as mystical experiences, which are no more than ineffable, laminated loads of pain arising in vague and diverse, aleatoric form to higher brain levels. Once the pain breaks through, those higher brain levels are then forced to concoct esoteric ideas without form, as the brain starts to lose cohesion and boundaries.

What are these pains? Trauma during gestation, birth and infancy. A smoking, drinking mother. An anxious mother living in chaos. An impatient parent who demands too much from the baby. A carrying mother taking drugs or ingesting medicine that alters the baby’s metabolism. And on and on. They are too numerous to adumbrate.

When those pains suddenly break through after a lifetime of repression, they cannot be enumerated nor defined by the patient, not his doctor; hence, they are considered mystical. It should read “mystery” rather than mystical because that is what it is for the victim, who never sees himself as victim. He swears he has been liberated. “Liberated” temporarily from his pain, it seems.


  1. You are so right, Art! I took lsd in 1972. Wish I never had. It was forced on me by a college friend. I was 24. it is very dangerous. Left me with permanent insomnia! It sent my blood cells crazy as I got a tumour through the thyroid in my twenties. All bad trips. The psychiatric profession in the U.K. is starting to 'seriously consider' the use of lsd in treatment of depressed patients. Pure insanity and stupidity! Sandie.

  2. Hi Art,

    you're absolutely correct.

    I talk too much as result of my 'LSD therapy'. A common 'side effect'.

    Paul G.

  3. I've always got to be guilty... guilty for everything I've done... for good and bad... if it can be of any understanding. I have experienced myself being guilty for my needs as it has been very painful to show my feelings to someone... my need for love. My guilt is me and for that there has been no relief for what was... I could just be it. If all my suffering would show at once so would my system impossible be able to cope with it and I would get sick of no return. This is what you "professional" take responsibility for when you start to use hallucinogenic agent in an attempt to explore what already is in its science... it without your consent in your surrounding of psychological illnesses.

    I never had a clue about what I've done... to be guilty. I was far from being self-conscious. I was in such pain that there were no references to anything more than to be suffering. To find the straw has taken decades!

    Imagine opening a lid into an inferno of hatred and needs that have never been allowed to show itself. Once packed under a pressure which would move mountain if let lose. We can see it let loose with cognitive maniapullations and mountains are virtually moved by this force and war after another.

    Children are crying in the hell of suffering... it in their prams when parents can simultaneously stand smile and talk to their "friends"... one of the most well-packed emotions which subsequently proved to be highly explosive... to be cause of mental illnesses without proper diagnosis. And so we are able in trying out hallucinogenic agents for what we can not perceive science of human suffering.

    Talking from the mouth of hell... we are in a position to do what ever suits us in try for needs without the slightest knowledge of what science long ago told us about.


  4. Hi,
    I personally wish I had never had anything to do with the entire 'New Age' movement which still embraces these drugs as some kind of 'spiritual renewal' device. A long standing 'friend', someone who should know better as a recent cancer survivor recommended psylocybin to me for my depression having totally ignored everything I told them about how LSD and mushrooms have contributed to my depressive / anxious condition. It is as if their belief system has become entirely concretised and they cannot let any other framework in. These lot are anti scientific until they read a report by some so called scientist who says mushrooms are good. It's infuriating having peers who appear to me to have a mental age of 6 year olds but talk down to me as if I am a moral imbecile. They believe anything that fits their bias. These idiots do not realise how conditioned they have become, nor do they realise how similar their modified personalities have become to those who practice mindfulness and/ or CBT techniques. As Art has said: "It's all of a piece". These people brainwash themselves and embrace nonsense as a matter of course. Just as long as it's 'alternative'. Lastly they all seem to be covertly really right wing too. Leftist on the outside but pure capitalist on the inside. Bloody 'Little Englanders' with strange beliefs. . .

    I'm pretty angry really because everything one might dislike about English middle class hypocrisy and that mendacious inward self satisfaction is perfectly reproduced in this 'Drug Sympathetic' New Age, anything goes Religion. I hate it and I wasted my entire youth trying to 'fit in' with these daft and pointless ideas and practices.

    I've done my own research as well as followed up Arts, perhaps what most people do not realise, is the vast injection of dopamine and endorphines that these drugs release. You get artificially high don't you? Whether affecting directly on the brain organs that produce these endorphines or indirectly as the gating system writhes around to try to find a way to 'channel' the pain, (as Art has said in different words) the effect is similar. Thus these drugs are having a similar effect to getting royally drunk on champagne - and after a few glasses you'll believe anything.

    Yes I have read reports that say LSD & Alcohol do similar 'psychomimetic things'.

    As many of you all know I am a wordsmith and like to experiment with words to get understanding and as time passes and I feel more I also get better and better at 'reading' people's words (my own too - did I really just say that)? I see a pattern of language unfold which demonstrates to me how these 'poor devils' are self brainwashing. It's a religion and they cannot see it. They appear to be anti organised religion but in reality they embrace all religions in some kind of 'solianka' steeped in a brew of psylocybin or ebocane or that other one from Latin America, what's it called? - Who cares?

    I am ranting, sorry but this article of Arts hits the nail right on the head and I must contribute with my hapeth worth of vitriol having become an expert in recovering from New Age Bullshit now obviously going mainstream.

    Yours most exasperatedly,

    Paul G.

  5. Dear Art (this follows on from my previous post),

    first things first. Life is serendipitous and I believe if we search hard enough we do find a way. I can say with certainty that what I found was your writings. Consequently you have saved my life. I never made it to the Primal Center (yet) but your books and this blog have saved my life, maybe I'll die tomorrow but if I do it will be with the satisfaction of having lived for a while according to my true feelings. Please everyone accept this unscientific statement for what it is.

    Next, a quote from an earlier article of yours Art, called 'Can I Hurt Your Feelings':

    -"Let’s look at this from another perspective. We have a brain structure called the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC). It is central to our limbic system/feeling center. When we begin to feel isolated or neglected this structure takes part and adds the “hurt” to our reaction. It becomes part of our pain network. (see: New Scientist, 1, Dec. 2012, page 37). This structure adds the force, valence or oomph to our reactions. But when we hurt emotionally there is another group of structures, the sensory group, (the anterior insula and others) that enter the fray and helps the emotions become physical hurt. They become intertwined and are “one.” Feeling neglected hurts both emotionally and physically. Emotional hurts, in short, have bodily accouterments; which is obvious. So when our feelings are hurt we hurt physically: it is not simply “in our head.” And therefore “head” therapy or cognitive approaches cannot touch it. Remember, we are in pain"-.

    I suspect LSD and Psylicybin affect these parts of the brain.

    I realised a long time ago that my 'affair' with these 'mind altering' drugs and in particular LSD was a search for part of myself all alone and in the context of a community that I never had when as a child at boarding school. I was lonely and hurting and I was screaming out for love inside.

    I stupidly jumped out from the lonely frying pan of my so called privileged community into the fire of the New Age LSD/ Mushroom culture. The one thing that never changed was my loneliness which came closer and closer to the surface no thanks to LSD and psylocybin.

    My best friend before he died (Hodgekins) at the young age of about 28 gave me your book The Primal Scream and I read it three times believing it represented the mainstream psychotherapeutic opinion and practice. I never realised that the entire 'industry' is almost completely in denial. I do now and is it surprising they are starting to experiment again with these drugs? NO.

    These scientists are also lonely and inside them is a scream trying to get out but they are focused so intently on their theories and their patients needs they cannot see themselves in the picture.

    If I say you saved my life I mean it because these New Age Devils I got in with are worse than many of the boarding school privileged elite I once was rubbing shoulders with. I could have died for their indifference to my and my sons suffering over these last years where I live.

    How did my life be saved? I began to take responsibility for finding new friends and new ways of relating, even with those old devils, I am surviving the lack of love, not by stoically gritting my teeth (though I do that too) but through being in touch with my feelings; I have a relationship with myself and from that I can find others true to themselves as well. I will find some love and it won't be through LSD or psylicybin.

    Sometimes I am so angry at the entire panoply of opinion which ignores the Primal Truth, and never more so angry than when I hear this bloody mantra for LSD or Psylicybin.

    These drugs really can hurt your feelings.

    Paul G.

  6. As usual, a very convincing scientific argument against LSD and other hallucinogens. On a purely intuitive basis ,I cannot understand how anyone could think that some plants or chemicals could help people who are "seekers", or dissatisfied , or in distress. I never had much interest in this aspect of the counterculture, but I did pick up over the years a few books detailing the widespread research on the possibilities of these drugs in the 50s and 60s.There are also a few references to the apparent possibilities of these drugs in non-Janovian primal circles. Those are where I found links to new research that is now being conducted. To those researchers I say: forget the drugs, go see Janov for some natural healing!

    Gee, I had enough bad trips with the weak marijuana of 30- to 40 years ago. I sure as hell was not going to try LSD or mescaline, and I never did. The marijuana is much much stronger now, and it was the smoking of this stronger weed a few years ago which led to uncomfortable feelings, which then led me to finally read Janov's comments about marijuana in The Primal Scream . That started me on my reading of all Janov's books, which I have spent hundreds of hours with. Not one minute of that reading do I consider wasted. Naturally, just reading about Primal is not going to make much difference. Still ,I love sitting down with those books and studying them carefully. They deserve to be studied carefully. When I do, I find that I am considering issues of vital importance.


  7. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you Arthur & France!

    I do not know what to say about my christmases as a child. I tried to see it as little less painful and tell you about it... but my words got stuck in my throat. It was not a happy christmas... I just wanted it to be good. When we talk about schizophrenia... it is my experience of christmas. It must be a lucky that I did not got that with me into adulthood... but it has deceived in the shadows of myself.

    As a child I frustrated forward thoughts about a happy christmas... a cognitive activity... but its like. But there was non... I was alone and scared around my mom and dad... but I needed them very... very... very much. The schitzofrena circumstances was and has been what I have repressed. It has been a well hidden secret to save my life.

    Your Frank

  8. Frank, Yes but this time I really do hope you have a wonderful christmasy, and I hope my writings help you to have it. my best art

  9. An email comment:
    "Art thanks for writing this….

    I would agree, that the use of Hallucinogenic agents to treat anyone is one of the craziest things, it really means that they have failed to succeed in treating people with psychiatric issues. Its an act of desperation.

    I have a long history myself of working with drug users, both as the past clinical director of an out patient drug treatment center in Santa Monica, and as someone who used drugs, themselves, as a teenager and young adult, but that was before I became a therapist.

    Its been my observation having treated many hallucinogen users, that those that favor their use tend to be intellectuals, who have a difficult time feeling anything at all, and that hallucinogens, allow them to at last feel things, intensively, in some cases for the first time in their life. When they begin to feel, and become undefended, watch out, that’s when it gets crazy…

    The irony here is that psychiatry when presented with someone who uses these drugs overlooks the drug use and goes right to diagnosing those patients with psychosis, and immediately put them anti psychotics. They have no clue what to do.

    Unlike other drugs like Cocaine, Alcohol and Opiates, there are no 12 step meetings that I know of for, LSD ANONYMOUS, because no one can use those drugs long enough to develop an addiction to them, because they go crazy…

    My last question would be, if these drugs, actually are helpful, then why don't addicts get better by using them? It just doesn’t happen….The streets and full of people that have used these drugs, who can barely function, largely because of their drug use…

    It's likely that pharmaceutical companies are funding this research, and they would like to develop drugs from them to sell.


Review of "Beyond Belief"

This thought-provoking and important book shows how people are drawn toward dangerous beliefs.
“Belief can manifest itself in world-changing ways—and did, in some of history’s ugliest moments, from the rise of Adolf Hitler to the Jonestown mass suicide in 1979. Arthur Janov, a renowned psychologist who penned The Primal Scream, fearlessly tackles the subject of why and how strong believers willingly embrace even the most deranged leaders.
Beyond Belief begins with a lucid explanation of belief systems that, writes Janov, “are maps, something to help us navigate through life more effectively.” While belief systems are not presented as inherently bad, the author concentrates not just on why people adopt belief systems, but why “alienated individuals” in particular seek out “belief systems on the fringes.” The result is a book that is both illuminating and sobering. It explores, for example, how a strongly-held belief can lead radical Islamist jihadists to murder others in suicide acts. Janov writes, “I believe if people had more love in this life, they would not be so anxious to end it in favor of some imaginary existence.”
One of the most compelling aspects of Beyond Belief is the author’s liberal use of case studies, most of which are related in the first person by individuals whose lives were dramatically affected by their involvement in cults. These stories offer an exceptional perspective on the manner in which belief systems can take hold and shape one’s experiences. Joan’s tale, for instance, both engaging and disturbing, describes what it was like to join the Hare Krishnas. Even though she left the sect, observing that participants “are stunted in spiritual awareness,” Joan considers returning someday because “there’s a certain protection there.”
Janov’s great insight into cultish leaders is particularly interesting; he believes such people have had childhoods in which they were “rejected and unloved,” because “only unloved people want to become the wise man or woman (although it is usually male) imparting words of wisdom to others.” This is just one reason why Beyond Belief is such a thought-provoking, important book.”
Barry Silverstein, Freelance Writer

Quotes for "Life Before Birth"

“Life Before Birth is a thrilling journey of discovery, a real joy to read. Janov writes like no one else on the human mind—engaging, brilliant, passionate, and honest.
He is the best writer today on what makes us human—he shows us how the mind works, how it goes wrong, and how to put it right . . . He presents a brand-new approach to dealing with depression, emotional pain, anxiety, and addiction.”
Paul Thompson, PhD, Professor of Neurology, UCLA School of Medicine

Art Janov, one of the pioneers of fetal and early infant experiences and future mental health issues, offers a robust vision of how the earliest traumas of life can percolate through the brains, minds and lives of individuals. He focuses on both the shifting tides of brain emotional systems and the life-long consequences that can result, as well as the novel interventions, and clinical understanding, that need to be implemented in order to bring about the brain-mind changes that can restore affective equanimity. The transitions from feelings of persistent affective turmoil to psychological wholeness, requires both an understanding of the brain changes and a therapist that can work with the affective mind at primary-process levels. Life Before Birth, is a manifesto that provides a robust argument for increasing attention to the neuro-mental lives of fetuses and infants, and the widespread ramifications on mental health if we do not. Without an accurate developmental history of troubled minds, coordinated with a recognition of the primal emotional powers of the lowest ancestral regions of the human brain, therapists will be lost in their attempt to restore psychological balance.
Jaak Panksepp, Ph.D.
Bailey Endowed Chair of Animal Well Being Science
Washington State University

Dr. Janov’s essential insight—that our earliest experiences strongly influence later well being—is no longer in doubt. Thanks to advances in neuroscience, immunology, and epigenetics, we can now see some of the mechanisms of action at the heart of these developmental processes. His long-held belief that the brain, human development, and psychological well being need to studied in the context of evolution—from the brainstem up—now lies at the heart of the integration of neuroscience and psychotherapy.
Grounded in these two principles, Dr. Janov continues to explore the lifelong impact of prenatal, birth, and early experiences on our brains and minds. Simultaneously “old school” and revolutionary, he synthesizes traditional psychodynamic theories with cutting-edge science while consistently highlighting the limitations of a strict, “top-down” talking cure. Whether or not you agree with his philosophical assumptions, therapeutic practices, or theoretical conclusions, I promise you an interesting and thought-provoking journey.
Lou Cozolino, PsyD, Professor of Psychology, Pepperdine University

In Life Before Birth Dr. Arthur Janov illuminates the sources of much that happens during life after birth. Lucidly, the pioneer of primal therapy provides the scientific rationale for treatments that take us through our original, non-verbal memories—to essential depths of experience that the superficial cognitive-behavioral modalities currently in fashion cannot possibly touch, let alone transform.
Gabor Maté MD, author of In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters With Addiction

An expansive analysis! This book attempts to explain the impact of critical developmental windows in the past, implores us to improve the lives of pregnant women in the present, and has implications for understanding our children, ourselves, and our collective future. I’m not sure whether primal therapy works or not, but it certainly deserves systematic testing in well-designed, assessor-blinded, randomized controlled clinical trials.
K.J.S. Anand, MBBS, D. Phil, FAACP, FCCM, FRCPCH, Professor of Pediatrics, Anesthesiology, Anatomy & Neurobiology, Senior Scholar, Center for Excellence in Faith and Health, Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare System

A baby's brain grows more while in the womb than at any time in a child's life. Life Before Birth: The Hidden Script That Rules Our Lives is a valuable guide to creating healthier babies and offers insight into healing our early primal wounds. Dr. Janov integrates the most recent scientific research about prenatal development with the psychobiological reality that these early experiences do cast a long shadow over our entire lifespan. With a wealth of experience and a history of successful psychotherapeutic treatment, Dr. Janov is well positioned to speak with clarity and precision on a topic that remains critically important.
Paula Thomson, PsyD, Associate Professor, California State University, Northridge & Professor Emeritus, York University

"I am enthralled.
Dr. Janov has crafted a compelling and prophetic opus that could rightly dictate
PhD thesis topics for decades to come. Devoid of any "New Age" pseudoscience,
this work never strays from scientific orthodoxy and yet is perfectly accessible and
downright fascinating to any lay person interested in the mysteries of the human psyche."
Dr. Bernard Park, MD, MPH

His new book “Life Before Birth: The Hidden Script that Rules Our Lives” shows that primal therapy, the lower-brain therapeutic method popularized in the 1970’s international bestseller “Primal Scream” and his early work with John Lennon, may help alleviate depression and anxiety disorders, normalize blood pressure and serotonin levels, and improve the functioning of the immune system.
One of the book’s most intriguing theories is that fetal imprinting, an evolutionary strategy to prepare children to cope with life, establishes a permanent set-point in a child's physiology. Baby's born to mothers highly anxious during pregnancy, whether from war, natural disasters, failed marriages, or other stressful life conditions, may thus be prone to mental illness and brain dysfunction later in life. Early traumatic events such as low oxygen at birth, painkillers and antidepressants administered to the mother during pregnancy, poor maternal nutrition, and a lack of parental affection in the first years of life may compound the effect.
In making the case for a brand-new, unified field theory of psychotherapy, Dr. Janov weaves together the evolutionary theories of Jean Baptiste Larmarck, the fetal development studies of Vivette Glover and K.J.S. Anand, and fascinating new research by the psychiatrist Elissa Epel suggesting that telomeres—a region of repetitive DNA critical in predicting life expectancy—may be significantly altered during pregnancy.
After explaining how hormonal and neurologic processes in the womb provide a blueprint for later mental illness and disease, Dr. Janov charts a revolutionary new course for psychotherapy. He provides a sharp critique of cognitive behavioral therapy, psychoanalysis, and other popular “talk therapy” models for treating addiction and mental illness, which he argues do not reach the limbic system and brainstem, where the effects of early trauma are registered in the nervous system.
“Life Before Birth: The Hidden Script that Rules Our Lives” is scheduled to be published by NTI Upstream in October 2011, and has tremendous implications for the future of modern psychology, pediatrics, pregnancy, and women’s health.