Underground neuropharmacologist discusses his phantom limb inspired work with dissociative designer drugs.
There are medicinal chemists who work on an unseen side of the pharmaceutical industry. Like their legally sanctioned counterparts, they work to synthesize drugs they hope will produce therapeutic effects in their users. But they do not work with billion-dollar budgets or advertising agencies; doctors are not bribed to distribute their products with ergonomic pens or fine terrycloth beach towels. Their advertising comes solely from word of mouth and semicautionary articles like the one you are about to read.
The creation of these chemicals is an extraordinary feat of interdisciplinarity; often the pharmacologist, the chemist, the posologist, the toxicologist, and the experimental animal are all the same human being. This is the way drugs have been developed since the beginning of medical history—it is only in recent years that the practice of self-experimentation has become stigmatized, and accordingly these experimenters, like M., must remain shrouded in mystery.
M. is one of the most respected chemists in his underground field. Singlehandedly, he has popularized and discovered numerous novel drugs for gray-market distribution. His most recent investigation of ketamine and its chemical variations produced a new dissociative anesthetic named methoxetamine, which has recently made its way into the nostrils and anuses of lay experimenters worldwide. Methoxetamine is an exemplary product of rational drug discovery; each of its atoms is the result of arduous study and consideration, all created independently on a minuscule budget. But the success of drugs like methoxetamine does not entail great profits for their inventors. Indeed, it is they who wring their hands most over the unknown fate of the chemicals they conceive. Herein we shall explore the great bioethical quandary faced by the underground medicinal chemist.
How did your interest in the chemistry of dissociatives begin?
Well, when I was a young boy, only 13, I was badly hurt in an IRA bombing in London. My left hand had to be amputated after the explosion, and I knew I’d lived through a psychological stress that most people cannot even conceive. I would definitely say this triggered my interest in altered states. When you lose a limb, especially when the limb is exposed to serious trauma before the loss, there is a significant chance you’ll be left with an agonizing phantom limb.
Right, treatment for phantom limb has been one of the great riddles of neuroscience. Have you tried Ramachandran’s mirror-box therapy?
Oh yes, I’ve read Phantoms in the Brain and tried an awful lot of things. It’s a complete bastard to treat. God knows how many drugs I’ve been prescribed. Antidepressants, anti-epileptics, muscle relaxants—none of them really worked. For the worst excesses of phantom-limb pain, traditional painkillers like opiates don’t even touch it. You might as well not even bother with them. I was prescribed high doses of pethidine [also known as Demerol] but returned the bottle to my doctor because it wasn’t doing me any good whatsoever. When I came back, my doctor was agog. He said, “Nobody returns pethidine!” The pain involved can be so bad as to effectively detach your mind from consensus reality. Without suitable analgesia I end up looking like a psychiatric inmate, just rocking backward and forward, unable to do anything, sometimes for more than a day. All that considered, anything that does work is an absolute godsend.
And what works?
I discovered a long time ago that ketamine and cannabinoids helped my phantom hand. I’m quite convinced these classes work by distorting body image so severely that you phase out triggers for the pain. I have experienced profound proprioceptive distortions after intramuscular PCP injection, as if my whole body were a proportional model of the sensory homunculus. But in a sense, what I feel is not hallucination or a distortion, I actually find dissociatives corrective, that is, they make the phantom disappear. This is not just an idiosyncratic response on my part; there are at least three articles published on the effectiveness of ketamine in treating phantom-limb pain…
Thank you. I am really glad academically grounded researchers are turning their attention again to the potential of psychedelics. It is extremely important such discussions can be backed by quantifiable results.
As a general rule of thumb, that which we we deny in our conscious minds will possess us. This goes without fail for psychedelic experiences. Mind your state because your unconscious will bring into the fore what needs to be confronted.
By JOHN TIERNEY
Published: April 11, 2010
As a retired clinical psychologist, Clark Martin was well acquainted with traditional treatments for depression, but his own case seemed untreatable as he struggled through chemotherapy and other grueling regimens for kidney cancer. Counseling seemed futile to him. So did the antidepressant pills he tried.
Nothing had any lasting effect until, at the age of 65, he had his first psychedelic experience. He left his home in Vancouver, Wash., to take part in an experiment at Johns Hopkins medical school involving psilocybin, the psychoactive ingredient found in certain mushrooms.
Scientists are taking a new look at hallucinogens, which became taboo among regulators after enthusiasts like Timothy Leary promoted them in the 1960s with the slogan “Turn on, tune in, drop out.” Now, using rigorous protocols and safeguards, scientists have won permission to study once again the drugs’ potential for treating mental problems and illuminating the nature of consciousness.
After taking the hallucinogen, Dr. Martin put on an eye mask and headphones, and lay on a couch listening to classical music as he contemplated the universe.
“All of a sudden, everything familiar started evaporating,” he recalled. “Imagine you fall off a boat out in the open ocean, and you turn around, and the boat is gone. And then the water’s gone. And then you’re gone.”
Today, more than a year later, Dr. Martin credits that six-hour experience with helping him overcome his depression and profoundly transforming his relationships with his daughter and friends. He ranks it among the most meaningful events of his life, which makes him a fairly typical member of a growing club of experimental subjects.
»» Read more at NYTimes
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The Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of psilocybin, the active ingredient of psychedelic mushrooms, in pilot clinical trials to treat end-of-life distress. [Credit: Rohan523, wikimedia.org]
PSYCHEDELIC THERAPY: New research shows psychedelics might hold therapeutic potential for those dealing with death
“As doctors, we’re good at saving lives,” said Ross. “But we have not learned the art of helping patients have a good death.”
A 2007 study published by the American Cancer Society found that up to 50 percent of patients with advanced or terminal cancer are diagnosed with a major psychiatric disorder, and less than half of those with depressive symptoms receive any psychiatric medication. New treatment models could go a long way to help the over 500,000 Americans expected to die this year of cancer.
According to the researchers, psilocybin can achieve in one session what might otherwise take months or years, time some of these patients may not have.
Psilocybin binds to two types of serotonin receptors in the brain that are highly associated with mood and anxiety. Even more interesting to psychiatrists, brain imaging studies from the Heffter Research Center in Switzerland show that the drug appears to affect areas of the brain thought to mediate consciousness and spiritual feelings.
The effects of psilocybin last about four to six hours, during which time the subjects’ brain activity resembles that of people in spiritual states, such as meditating monks. Like people who practice meditation, the patients in the psilocybin trials reported feelings such as a greater connectedness to others, relief from fear and anxiety, and the ability to internalize their limited time as opportunities for personal growth.
▶ Read More at Science Line
(Thanks and love to Don for sharing.)
This is truly a promising step in the right direction. Fills me with hope.