Psychedelic Drugs: Lighting the Way to Death Since Aldous Huxleys Last Trip

Originally appearing here. As recently reported by the New York Times, Charles Grob, a psychiatrist and researcher at Harbor-U.C.L.A. Medical Center, has been administering psilocybin (the active ingredient in psychedelic or magic mushrooms) to terminal cancer patients. In 1963, one of the 20th century’s greatest minds and a pioneer, along with Oscar Janiger, of the effects of psychedelic drugs on the mind, philosophy and existence, lay on his deathbed. His name: Aldous Huxley. In Huxley’s final moments, he asked his wife Laura for ”LSD, 100 µg, intramuscular.” Laura granted Huxley his dying wish and injected him once at 11:45 am and again several hours later. Huxley, a master of fiction and keen critic of modern civilization, a man who Mike Wallace sought out for an interview, who could travel in nearly any social circle, had this to say of the psychedelic experience: “The man who comes back through the Door in the Wall will never be quite the same as the man who went out. He will be wiser but less sure, happier but less self-satisfied, humbler in acknowledging his ignorance yet better equipped to understand the relationship of words to things, of systematic reasoning to the unfathomable mystery which it tries, forever vainly, to comprehend.” We know ultimately how much Huxley weighed the importance of psychedelics, for it was staged as he left this world on LSD. That it has taken nearly 50 years for the medical profession to catch up with Huxley’s deathbed trip is absurd, proving yet again that the mainstream media and culture in general is far behind its intellectual and existential avant-garde. And while 50 years of ignorance is bad enough, a complete dismissal of human history, in which shamans took psychedelics to enter their underworld, is pathetic. As if modern man can learn nothing from the ancients aside from the purely anthropological pursuits of human appearance of social orders. Huxley likely did take LSD as he died as much for the adventure as for preparing himself for what lay in the void. How many people, outside of psychedelic users (past and present) and Huxley fans, have heard about the nature of his exit? Precious few. Grob, however, is not alone in his endeavor to pick up where Huxley left off, and inspired by the work of Stanislav Grof, who is noted to have said, “Dying before dying has two important consequences: It liberates the individual from the fear of death and influences the actual experience of dying at the time of biological demise.” (Grof, of course, was speaking of the “ego death” precipitated by the psychedelic experience.) According to the New York Times, efforts similar to Grob’s are currently underway at Harvard and John Hopkins University. “Dr. John Halpern, head of the Laboratory for Integrative Psychiatry at McLean Hospital in Belmont Mass., a psychiatric training hospital for Harvard Medical School, used MDMA — also known as ecstasy — in an effort to ease end-of-life anxieties in two patients with Stage 4 cancer. And there are two ongoing studies using psilocybin with terminal patients, one at New York University’s medical school, led by Stephen Ross, and another at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, where Roland Griffiths has administered psilocybin to 22 cancer patients and is aiming for a sample size of 44.” If this research (late as it is) will eventually lead to an acceptance of psychedelic drugs as an integral part of human existence, a means of providing insights into all manner of thoughts, then this is certainly a good thing. People need to know that culturally conservative forces, in collusion with government and mass media, have painted psychedelic drugs as wreckers of civilization. The medical profession is in an excellent position to destroy this false mythology. I have experienced many hundreds, perhaps thousands of beautiful, fleeting moments in my life, across the full range of human experience, and I can tell my readers unequivocally that the single most beautiful experience of my life occurred while on psilocybin mushrooms. It will be with me for all time. Everything that I had learned in my young life up to that point—all information, obtained from study, meditation (of the Aurelian variety), conversation and the senses—was condensed into a few short hours. The beauty and wonder of it all is such that one minute everything is astonishing and the next there exists an incredible awarness of nature. Minutes or seconds later a Looney Tunes-like hilarity may erupt, and the next moment the information, delivered as epiphanies, is gushing forth from vast, dormant and hidden reservoirs so potent that one feels the need to weep. The colors, the oscillations, the unbound imagination—words simply cannot do the experience justice. To hear authorities and pundits reduce psychedelics to soundbytes about madness or the end of civilization is laughable. Sure, frequent psychedelic use is not a great idea, nor is tripping in the throes of some bad psychological condition. Set and setting is key. That is, one’s mindset and the setting in which the experience occurs. These drugs have never wrecked civilizations, though. In fact, it’s very possible, as Terence McKenna suggested, that psilocybin was a civilizing force that helped humans develop critical and creative faculties. Imagine how far ahead of the curve we would be now if the media and mainstream culture, across all of Earth’s continents, had looked to Aldous Huxley’s death experience. It’s akin to the Catholic Church attempting to control the spread of a heliocentric astronomical model by silencing great scientific minds. One group has attempted to unlock the mysteries of the universe, while the other has sought to do the same with the mind. As suggested by psychedelic proponents, one day perhaps a synthesis will occur. I leave the final words to Huxley, writing in “A Brave New World,” which encapsulates the ruling elite and mainstream culture’s reaction to psychedelic drugs: “When the individual feels, the community reels.” Death and Taxes points out that “it has taken nearly 50 years for the medical profession to catch up” with writer Aldous Huxley’s final LSD experience. Now, however, international researchers are discovering through careful scientific studies what Huxley seemed already to know: that psychedelic-assisted therapy could help ease people’s passage to death.