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The following is a conversation with Matthew Johnson, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at Johns Hopkins and is one of the top scientists in the world conducting seminal research on psychedelics. This was one of the most Eye-Opening and fascinating conversations I've ever had on this podcast. I'm sure I'll talk with that many more times. Quick mention of his sponsor, followed by some thoughts related to the episode. Thank you. To a new sponsor, Brave, a fast browser that feels like Chrome but has more privacy preserving features.


Nero, the maker of functional sugar free gum and mints. They used to give my brain a quick caffeine boost for Stigmatic, the maker of delicious mushroom coffee. I'm just now realizing how ironic the sponsors are and cash up the app I use to send money to friends. Please check out these sponsors in the description to get a discount and support this podcast. As a side note, let me say that psychedelics is an area of study that is fascinating to me in that it gives hints that much of the magic of our experience arises from just a few chemical interactions in the brain and that the nature of that experience can be expanded to the tools of biology, chemistry, physics, neuroscience and artificial intelligence.


The fact that a world class scientist and researcher like Matt can apply rigor to our study of this mysterious and fascinating topic is exciting to me beyond words, as is the case with any of my colleagues who dare to venture out into the darkness of all that is unknown about the human mind, with both an openness of first principles, thinking and the rigor of the scientific method to enjoy these things. Subscribe on YouTube review starting up a podcast. Follow on Spotify, support on Patron or connect with me on Twitter.


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I will also donate ten dollars to the first organization that is helping to advance robotics and stem education for young people around the world. And now here's my conversation with Matthew Johnson. Can you give an introduction to psychedelics, like a whirlwind overview, maybe what our psychedelics and what are the kinds of psychedelics out there and in whatever way you find meaningful to categorize?


Yeah, you can categorize them by their chemical structure so that nothing means trip to means or ugliness that is is less of a meaningful way to classify them. I think their pharmacological activity, their receptor activity is the best way. Well, let me let me start even broader than that, because there I'm talking about the classic psychedelics. So broadly speaking, when we say psychedelic.


That refers to, for most people, a broad number of compounds that work in different pharmacological ways, so it includes the so-called classic psychedelics that includes psilocybin and sallerson, which are in mushrooms, LSD, dimethyltryptamine or DMT and ayahuasca. People can smoke it to mescaline, which is in peyote in San Pedro. Cactus.


And those all work by hitting a certain subtype of serotonin receptor, the serotonin 2A receptor, it's the act as agonists at that receptor. Other compounds like PCP, ketamine. MDMA ibogaine, they all are more broadly speaking, called psychedelics, but they work by. Very different ways pharmacologically, and they have some different effects, including some subjective effects, even though there's enough of an overlap in the subjective effects that, you know, people informally refer to them as psychedelic.


And I think what that overlap is, you know, compared to say, you know, caffeine and cocaine and Ambien, et cetera, other psychoactive drugs is that they have strong effects in altering one's sense of reality and including the sense of self. And I should throw in there that that cannabis, more historically, like in the 70s, has been called a minor psychedelic. And I think with that latter definition, it it does fit that definition, particularly if one doesn't have a tolerance.


So you mentioned serotonin. And so most of the effect comes from something around like the chemistry around neurotransmitters and so on. So it's chemical interactions in the brain or is there are other kinds of interactions that have this kind of perception and self-awareness altering effects?


Well, as far as we know, all of the the psychedelics of all the different classes, we've we've talked about it.


Their major activity is caused by receptor level events. So either. Acting at the post receptor side of the synapse, in other words, Neurotransmission operates by, you know, one neuron releasing neurotransmitter into a synaptic gap between the two neurons and then the other neuron receives.


They have it has receptors that receives and then there can be an activation caused by that.


So it's like a pitcher and a catcher. So all of the major psychedelics work by either acting as a pitch mimicking a pitcher or a catcher. So, for example, the classic psychedelics, they fit into the same catcher's mitt on the post receptor, post synaptic receptor side as serotonin itself. But they do a slightly different thing to the to the cell, to the neuron. Then serotonin does there's a different signalling pathway after that initial activation, something like MDMA.


Works at the prison haptic side, the picture side, and basically it floods the synapse or the gap between the cells with a bunch of serotonin and the natural neurotransmitter. So it's like the pitcher in a baseball game. All of a sudden you start throwing balls like every every second.


Everything we're talking about is that often more natural meaning found in the natural world. You mentioned cacti, cactus, or is it chemically manufactured like artificially in the lab?


So the classic psychedelics, there's what are the classics?


So using terminology that's not chemical terminology, not like the terminology you see in titles of papers, academic papers, but more sort of common parlance.


Right. It would be good to kind of define their, you know, their effects and how they're different. And so it includes LSD, psilocybin, which is in mushrooms, mescaline, DMT, which one is mesclun masculinized in the different cacti. So the one most people will know is is peyote.


But it also shows up in San Pedro or Peruvian torch and all of these classic psychedelics they have at the right dose, you know, and typically they have very strong effects on one sense of reality and one sense of self, what some of the things that makes them different than other. More broadly speaking, psychedelics like MDMA and others, is that they're at least the major examples. There are some exotic ones that differ, but the ones I've talked about are extremely safe at the physiological level, like there's like LSD and psilocybin.


There's no known lethal overdose unless you have, like, really severe heart disease, you know, because it modestly raises your blood pressure. So the same person might be shoveling snow or going up the stairs, you know, that could have occurred. They could have a cardiac event because they've taken one of these drugs. But for most people, you know, someone can take a thousand times what the effective doses and it's not going to cause any organ damage, affect the brains to make them stop breathing.


So in that sense, you know, it's they're freakishly safe at the physical. I would never call any compounds safe because there's always a risk. They're freakishly safe at the physiological level. I mean, you can hardly find anything over the counter like that. I mean, aspirin is not like that. Caffeine is not like that. Most drugs, you take five, 10, 20, maybe takes 100, but you get to some times the effective dose and it's going to kill you.


Yeah. Or cause some serious damage. And so that's that's something that's remarkable about these most of these classic psychedelics.


That's incredible, by the way, that you can go on a hell of a journey in the mind. Like, probably transformative, potentially in a deeply transformative way. And yet there's no doubt that most people would have a lethal effect. That's kind of fascinating.


There's this duality between the mind and the body. It's like it's the.


OK, so if I bring them up way too much, but David Goggins is like, you know, the kind of things you go on on the long run, like the hell you might go through in your mind. Your mind can take a lot and you can go through a lot with the mind and the body will just be its own thing.


You can go through hell, but after a good night's sleep, be back to normal and the body's always there.


So bringing it back to Goggins, it's like you can do that without even destroying your knee or whatever or coming close and riding that line.


That's just the unfortunate thing about the running, which he uses running to test the mind. So the the aspect of running that is negative in order to test the mind, you really have to push the body. I take the body through a journey. I wish there was another way of doing that in the physical exercise space. I think there are exercises that are easier on the body than others, but running sure is a hell of an effective way to do it.


And one of the ways that we're differs is that you're unlike exercise. You're essentially, you know, most exercise required to really get to those intense levels. You really need to be persistent about it. I mean, it'll be intense if you're really out of shape, just, you know, jogging for five minutes. But to really get those intense levels, you need to have the dedication. And so some of the other ways of of altering subjective effects or states of consciousness take that type of dedication.


Psychedelics, though, I mean, someone takes the right dose. They're strapped into the roller coaster. And something interesting is going to happen. And I really like what you said about that, that that that distinction between the mind or the contrast between the mind effects and the the body, the body effects, because I think this I, I do research with all the drugs, caffeine, alcohol, methamphetamine, cocaine, alcohol, legal, illegal. Most of these drugs you thinking about, say, cocaine and methamphetamine, you can't give to a regular user.


You can't safely give a dose where the regular cocaine user is going to say, oh, man, that's like. That's the strongest Coke I've ever had, you know, because, you know, you get it past the Ethics Committee and you need approval and I wouldn't want to give someone something that's dangerous. So to go to those levels where they would say that, you would have to give something that's physiologically. Riskier, yeah, you know, psilocybin or LSD, you can give a dose at the physiological level, that is like a very good chance.


It's going to be the most intense psychological experience of that person's life. Yeah, and have zero chance for most people if you screen them, of killing them. The the big risk is behavioral toxicity, which is a fancy way of saying doing something stupid. I mean, you're really intoxicated. Like if you wander into traffic or you fall from a height, just like playing people do on high doses of alcohol or any other kind of unique thing about that, like classic psychedelics, is that they're not addictive, which is pretty much unheard of when it comes to so-called drugs of abuse or drugs that people, at least at some frequency, choose to take.


You know, most of what we think of as drugs, you know, even caffeine, alcohol, cocaine, cannabis, most of these you can get into alcohol, you can get into a daily use pattern. And that's just extreme. So unheard of with psychedelics. Most people have taken these things on a daily basis. It's more like. They're building up the courage to do it and they build up a tolerance or they're in college, they do it on a dare.


Can you take take acid seven days in a row and that type of thing, rather than a self-control issue where you have to say, oh, God, I got to stop taking this, I got to stop drinking every night, I got to cut down on the coke, whatever. So that's the classic psychedelics.


What are the what's a good term, modern psychedelics or maybe psychedelics that are created in the lab? What else is there? Right.


So MDMA is the big one. And I should say that that with the classic psychedelics that LSD is sort of you can call it a semi synthetic because there's there's there's natural from from both ergot and in certain seeds, Morning Glory seeds.


As one example, there's a very close there are some very close chemical relatives of LSD. So LSD is close to what occurs in nature, but not quite. But then when we get into the the other non classic psychedelics, probably the most prominent one is MDMA. People call it ecstasy. People call it Molly.


And it is it differs from classic psychedelics in a number of ways. It can be addictive, but not so it's like you can have cocaine on this end of the continuum and classic psychedelics here, continuum of addiction, continuum of addiction. So it's certainly no cocaine. It's pretty rare for people to get into daily use patterns, but it's possible and they can get into more like, you know, using once a week pattern that where they can find it hard to to stop it.


It's it's somewhere in between mostly towards the to the classic psychedelic side in terms of. Like relatively little addiction potential, but it's also more physiologically dangerous. I think that the certainly the therapeutic use it showing really promising effects for treating PTSD in the models that are used. I think those are extremely acceptable when it comes to the risk benefit ratio that you see all throughout medicine, but nonetheless that we do know that at a certain dose and a certain frequency that MDMA can cause long term damage to the serotonin system in the brain.


So it doesn't have that level of kind of freakish bodily safety that that the classic psychedelics do. And it has more of a heart load, a cardiovascular. I don't mean kind of emotion. I mean in this sense, although it is very emotional and that's something unique about its subjective effects. But it's more of a pressor and the terminology used in sort of like a freakish capacities, allowing you from a researcher perspective, but a personal perspective, too, of taking a journey with.


So some of these psychedelics, that is the heroic doses, they say. So like these are tools that allow you to take a serious mental journey, whatever that is. That's what you mean. With MDMA, there's a little bit it starts entering this territory where you got to be careful about the risks to the body, potentially.


So, yes, that in the sense that you can't kind of push the dose up as high as safely as one can if they're in the right setting, like in our research, as they can with the with the classic psychedelics, but probably more importantly, the just the nature of the effects with MDMA.


Aren't they full on psychedelic?


It's not the full journey, you know, so it's sort of a psychedelic with rose colored glasses on a psychedelic that's more of it's been called more of a heart trip than a head trip. The nature of reality doesn't unravel as frequently as it does the classic psychedelics, but you're able to more directly sense your environment.


So your perceptual system still works. It's not completely detached from reality with MDMA.


That that's true, relatively speaking. That said, at most doses and of classic psychedelics you still have a tether to reality changes a little bit when you talking about smoking DMT or smoking five methoxy DMT, which are some interesting, interesting examples we could talk more about, but with. Yet with MDMA, it's for example, it's very rare to have a what's called an ego loss experience or a sense of transcendental unity, where one really seemingly loses the psychological construct of the self, you know.


But MDMA, it's very common for people to have this. You know, they still are perceiving themselves as a self, but it's common for them to have this this warmth, this empathy for humanity and for their friends and loved ones. So it's more it's and you see those effects under the classic psychedelics. But that's a subset of what the classic psychedelics do. So I see MDMA in terms of its subjective effects. If you think about then diagrams, it's sort of MDMA is all within the classic psychedelic.


So everything that you see on a particular MDMA session, sometimes a civil servant session looks just like that. But then sometimes it's completely different. With psilocybin, it's a little more narrowed in terms of the variability with MDMA.


Is there something general to say about what the psychedelics do to the human mind? You mention kind of an ego loss experience in the space of van diagrams. If were to like draw a big circle, what can we say about that big circle? In terms of people's report of subjective experience, probably one of the most general things we can say is that it expands that range. So many people come out of these sessions saying that they didn't know it was possible to have an experience like that.


So there's an emphasis on the subjective experience that is. Is there a words that people put it put to it that capture that experience, or is it something that just has to be experienced?


Yeah, people as a researcher, that's an interesting question, because you have to kind of measure the the effects of this. And how do you convert that into numbers. Right. That that's the ultimate challenge. Is that even. Is that possible to one, convert it into words and second, convert the words into numbers somehow?


So we do a lot of that with questionnaires, some of which are very psychometric revalidated. So they lots of numbers have been crunched on them. And there's always a limitation with with questionnaires. I mean, subjective effects are subjective effects.


Ultimately, it's what the person is reporting.


And in that doesn't necessarily point towards a ground truth, what they're. So, for example, if someone says that they felt like they touched another dimension or they felt like they they sensed the reality of God, or if they you know, I mean, just you name it, people's ontological views can sometimes shift. I think that's more about where they're coming from. And I don't think it's the the quintessential way in which they work. There's plenty of people that hold on to a completely naturalistic viewpoint and come and have profound and and helpful experiences with these compounds.


But the subjective effects can be so broad that for some people it shifts their their philosophical viewpoint more towards idealism, more towards, you know, thinking of that. The nature of reality might be more about consciousness than about material. That's a domain I'm very interested in right now. We have essentially zero to say about that in terms of validating those types of claims. But it's even interesting just to see what people say along those lines.


You're interested in saying like, can we more rigorously study this process of expansion? Like, what do we mean by this expansion of your sense of what is possible in the experiences in this world? Right.


As much as what we can say about that through naturalistic psychology, especially as much as we can root it to solid psychological constructs and solid neuroscientific constructs.


And I wonder what the impact is of the language that you bring to the table.


So you mentioned about God or speaking of God, a lot of people are really into sort of theoretical physics these days at a very surface level.


And you can bring the language of physics, right? You can talk about quantum mechanics. You can talk about general relativity and curvature of space time and using just that language without a deep technical understanding of it to somehow start thinking, like sort of visualizing atoms in your head and somehow through that process, because you have the language using that language to kind of dissolve the ego, like realize that we're just all little bits of physical objects that behave in mysterious ways.


And so that that has to do with the language. Like if you read as Sean Carroll book or something recently, it seems like there's a huge influence on the way you might experience, might perceive the world. And my experience, the alteration that psychedelics brings to the to the your perception system. So I wonder, like the language you bring to the table how that affects the journey. You go on with the psychedelics?


I think very much so. And I think there's an a little concern. Some of the science is going a little too far in the direction of of around the edges, you know, speaking about it, changing beliefs in the sense or that sense about particular in particular domains. And I think what really what a lot of what's going on is what you just discussed. It's it's the Pryors coming into into it. So if you've been reading a lot of physics, then you might, you know, bring up, you know, like, you know, spacetime and interpret the experience in that sense.


I mean, it's not uncommon for people come out talking about visions of the it's not the most typical thing, but it's come up in sessions. I've guided the Big Bang and the, you know, this sort of nature of reality. I think probably the. Best way to think about these experiences is that and the best evidence, even though we're in our infancy and understanding it, that they really tap into more general psychological mechanisms. I think one of the best arguments is they they they they reduce the influence of the of our priors, of what we bring into the all of the assumptions that we all have, that we're essentially, especially as adults, were riding on top of heuristic after heuristic to get through life.


And you need to do that. And that's a good thing. And that's extremely efficient. And evolution has shaped that. But that comes at an expense. And it seems that these experiences will. Will allow someone greater mental flexibility and openness and so one can be both less influenced by their their prior assumptions, but still nonetheless, the nature of the experience can be influenced by what they've been exposed to in the world. And sometimes they can get it at a deeper in a deeper way, like maybe they've read.


I mean, I had a philosophy professor at that time as a as a participant in a high dose psilocybin study. And I remember him saying, my God, it's like Haggles Opposite's defining like I get it. I got this thing for years and years and years, like, I get it now. And so like that, you know, and and even at the psychological emotional level, like the cancer patients we worked with, you know, they told themselves a million times, are the people trying to quit smoking?


I need to quit smoking. Oh, I'm ruining my life. But this cancer, I'm still healthy. I should be getting out and letting this thing defeat me. So, yeah, you told yourself that in your head, but suddenly they had these experiences and they kind of feel it in their heart, like they really get it. So in some sense that. You bring some price to the table, but psychedelics allow you to acknowledge them and then throw them away, so they one popular terminology around this in the engineering spaces, first principles, thinking that Elon Musk, for example, espouses a lot.


Let me ask a fun question before we return to a more serious discussion with Elon Musk as an example.


But it could be just engineers in general. Do you think there's a use for psychedelics to take a journey of rigorous first principles thinking so like throwing away? We're not talking about throwing away assumptions about the nature of reality in terms of like our philosophy of the way we live day to day life. But we're talking about like how how to build a better rocket or how to build a better car or how to build a better social network or all those kinds of things.


Engineering questions. I absolutely think there's huge potential there.


And there was some research in the late 60s, early 70s that where it was very early and not very rigorous in terms of methodology, but it was consistent with the I mean, there's just countless anecdotes of folks. I mean, people have argued that just, you know, Silicon Valley was was largely influenced by psychedelic experience. I remember the I think the person that came up with the concept of freeware, shareware, it's like it kind of was generated, you know, out of or influenced by psychedelic experience, you know.


So to this, I think there's incredible potential there. And we know really next there's no rigorous research on that.


But is there anecdotally stuff like with Steve Jobs? I think there's stories right. In your exploration of that is there is something a little bit more than just stories. Is there like a little bit more of a solid data points, even if they're just experiential like anecdotes? Is there something that you draw inspiration from, like in your intuition? Because we'll talk about it. You're trying to construct studies that are more rigorous around these questions. But is there something you draw inspiration from, from the past, from the 80s and the 90s and Silicon Valley, that kind of space?


Or is it just like you have a sense based on everything you've learned and these kind of loose stories that there's something worth digging at?


I am influenced by the goche, the the just incredible number of anecdotes surrounding these, I mean, Kerry Mollis, he he invented PCR. I mean, absolutely revolutionized biological sciences. He says he wouldn't have won the Nobel Prize for him and said he wouldn't have come up with that had he not had psychedelic experiences. Um, you know, now he's an interesting character.


People should read his autobiography because you could point to other things he was into. But but I think that speaks to the casting your nets wide and this mental flexin more these you know, these general mechanisms where sometimes if you castanets really wide and it's going to depend on the person and their influences.


But sometimes you come up with false positives, you know, you know, you connect the dots where maybe you shouldn't have connected those dots.


But it I think that can be constrained and and so much of our not only a personal psychological suffering, but our limitations academically and in terms of technology are because of these self-imposed limitations and and heuristics, these intrinsic ways of thinking, you know, like those examples throughout the history of science where someone has come up with a rat, the paradigm Koonce paradigm shifts.


It's like here's something completely different. You know, this doesn't make sense by any of the previous models. And like, we need more of those, you know, and then you need the right balance between that, because so many of the novel crazy ideas are just bunk. And that's what science is about, separating them from from the valid paradigm shifting ideas. But we need more paradigm shifting ideas in a big way. And I think we could I think you could argue that we've because of the structure of academia and science in modern times, it heavily biases against those.




There's all kinds of mechanisms in our human nature to resist paradigm shift. Quite the sort of obviously so and psychedelics. That could be a lot of other tools. But it seems like psychedelics could be one set of tools that encourage paradigm shifting thinking. So like the first principles kind of thinking. So there's a kind of.


You're at the forefront of research here. There's just kind of anecdotal stories, there's early studies, there's a sense that we don't understand very much, but there's a lot of depth here. How do we get from there to where you want? And I can regularly like I wake up every morning. I have deep work sessions where it's well understood, like what dose to take. Like if I want to explore something where it's all legal, where it's all understood and safe, all that kind of stuff, how do we get from where we are today to they're not speaking in terms of legality, in the sense like policy making, all that like laws and stuff, meaning like how do we scientifically understand this stuff well enough to get to a place where I can just take it safely in order to expand my thinking like this kind of first principles thinking which I'm in my personal life currently doing, like how do I revolutionize particular several things?


Like it seems like the only tools I have right now, it's just just but my mind going doing the first principles like, well, OK, why has this been done this way? Can we do it completely differently? It seems like I'm still tethered to the Pryors I bring to the table and I keep trying to untether myself. Maybe there's tools they can systematically help me untether.


Yeah, well, we need experiments, you know, and that's that's tied to kind of the policy level stuff.


And I should be clear, I would never encourage anyone to do anything illicitly. But yeah, you know, in the future we could see these these compounds used for the for for technical and scientific innovation. What we need are studies that are digging into that right now. Most of what the the funding, which is largely funded from philanthropy, not from the government, largely what it's for is, is treatment of of mental disorders like addiction and depression, et cetera.


But we need studies. You know, one of the early initial stabs on this question decades ago was they took some architects and engineers and said, what what problems have you been working on where you've been stuck for months, like working on this damn thing and you're not getting anywhere you like. Your head's butting up against the wall. So I come in here, take and I think it was one hundred micrograms of LSD, not a big session and a little bit different model where they were actually working.


It was a modest enough dose where they could work on the problem during the session. I think probably I'm an empiricist, so I'd like to see all the studies done. But the first thing I would do is like a really high dose session where you're not necessarily in front of your computer, you know, which you can't really do on a on a really high dose.


And then the work has been talked about, like you take a really high dose, you take a journey, and then the breakthroughs come from when you return from the journey and like integrate quote unquote, that experience.


I think that's where all the and again, where were babies at this point. But my gut tells me, yeah, that that it's the it's the so-called integration, the aftermath. We know that there's some form, different forms of neuroplasticity that are unfolding in the days following a psychedelics, at least in animals probably going on humans. We don't know if that's related to the therapeutic effects. My gut tells me it is, although it's it's only part of the story.


But but we need big studies where we compare people like let's get one hundred people like that, scientists that are working on a problem and then randomize them to. And then I think you need a even more credible, you know, active controls or active placebo conditions to kind of tease this out. And then also in conjunction with that. And you can do this in the same study. You want to combine that with more rigorous sort of. Experimental models where we actually get are problem solving tasks that we know, for example, that you tend to do better on after you've gotten a good night's sleep versus not.


And my my sense is there's a relationship there. Know people go back to first principles questioning those first principles they're operating under and getting away from their Prior's in terms of creative problem solving.


And so I think wrap those things and you could speak a little more rigorous about those, because ultimately, if everyone's bringing their own problem, that's that's I think that's more in the face value side. But you can't dig in as much in and get as much experimental power and speak to the mechanisms as you can with having everyone do the same sort of, you know, canned, you know, problem solving task.


So we've been speaking about psychedelics generally. Is there one you find from the scientific perspective or maybe even philosophical perspective? Most fascinating to study therapeutically?


I'm most interested in psilocybin and LSD and I think we need to do a lot more with LSD because it's mainly been psilocybin in the modern era. I've recently gotten a grant from the Hefty Research Institute to do an LSD study, so I haven't started yet. But I'm going through the paperwork and everything and therapeutic meaning.


There's some issue and you're trying to treat that issue. Right, right.


In terms of just like what's the most fascinating, you know, understanding of the nature of these experiences. If you really want to, like, wrap your head around what's going on when someone has a completely altered sense of reality and sense of self there, I think you're talking about the the the high dose either smoked vapourised or intravenous injection, which all kind of they're very similar pharmacologically. Of DMT and five methoxy DMT, this is like when people this is what and if you're familiar with Terence McKenna, he would talk a lot about smoking.


D.A. Joe Rogan has has talked a lot about that. People will say that. And there's a close relative called five methoxy EMT. Most people who know the terrain will say that's that's an order of magnitude or orders of magnitude beyond I mean, anything one could get from even a high dose of psilocybin or LSD. I think it's a question about whether, you know, how therapeutic I think there is a therapeutic potential there. But it's. Probably not as sure of a bet, because one goes so far out, it's almost like you're not contemplating their relationship in their direction.


In life, they are like reality is ripping apart at the seams and the very nature of the of the self and of the sense of reality. And the amazing thing about these compounds and to a lesser degree, with the you know, with oral psilocybin and LSD, is that. Unlike some other drugs that that really throw you far out there, you know, anesthetics and even even alcohol like it as realities starts to become different at higher and higher doses.


There's there's this numbing there is this sort of there's this the ability for the sense of.


Being the center, having a conscious experience that's memorable, that is maintained throughout these classic psychedelic experiences, like one can go as far so far out while still.


Being aware of the experience and remembering the experience, interesting, so being able to carry something back. Right. Can you dig a little deeper? Like what is DMT? How long is the trip usually? Like how much do we understand about it? There's something interesting to say about just the nature of the experience and what we understand about it.


One of the common methods for people to use is to is to smoke it or vaporize it, and it usually takes. And this is a pretty good kind of description of what it might feel like on the ground.


The caveat is it's it's it's a completely insufficient description and someone's going to be listening.


It was like nothing you could say is going to come close, but it'll take about three big hits inhalations in order to have what people call a breakthrough dose of.


And there's no great definition of that, but basically meaning. Moving away from not just having the typical psilocybin or LSD experience where, like things are radically different, but you're still basically a person in this reality to go in somewhere else.


And so they don't typically take like three hits.


And this stuff comes on like a freight train. So one takes a hit and around the time of the first exhalation. So we're talking about a few seconds in or maybe just, you know, sometime between the first and the second hit, it'll start to come on. And they're already up to it, say. You know what they might get from a 30 mg or three hundred microgram LSD trip, a big trip, they're already there when? At the second.


Hit, but they're going their consciousness is this is like acceleration, not speed, speak of physics, OK? It's like you just there's receptors are getting filled like that and they're going from zero to 60 in like, you know, teszler time. Yeah. And. At the second hit again there at maybe the strongest psychedelic experience they've ever had, and then if they can take that third hit, then some people can't there.


I mean, they're. They're propelled into this. Other reality and the nature of that other reality will will differ depending on who you ask, but, you know, folks will talk often talk about and and we've done some survey research on this entities of different types. Elves tend to pop up. Yeah. The caveat is, I strongly presume all of this is culturally influenced, you know, but thinking more about the psychology and the neuroscience, there is probably something fundamental like for someone that might be colored as elves, others it might be colored as a mechanical themself, dribbling basketballs for someone else, that it might be little animals or someone else it might be aliens.


I think that probably is dependent on who they are and what they've been exposed to. But just the fact that one has the sense that they're surrounded by autonomous entities, intelligent autonomous entities.




And people come back with stories that are just astonishing, like there's communication between these entities and often they're telling them. Things that that that that the person says are self validating, but it seems like it's impossible, like it really seems like. And again, this is what people say oftentimes that it's. It really is like downloading some intelligence from a higher dimension or some whatever metaphor you want to use. Sometimes these things come up in dreams where it's like someone is exposed to something that I've had this in a dream, you know, where it seems like what they are being exposed to is.


Physically impossible, but yet at the same time, self validating, it seems true like that they really are figuring something out cause the challenge is to say something in concrete terms after the experience that where you could, you know, verify that in any way. And I'm not familiar of any examples of that. Well, there's there's a sense in which.


I suppose the experience is like you, you're you're a limited cognitive creature that knows very little about the world, and here's a chance to communicate with a much wiser entities that in a way that you can't possibly understand, are trying to give you hints of deeper truths. And so there's that kind of sense that you can take something back, but you can't.


Where our cognition is not capable to fully grasp the truth will just get a kind of sense of it. And somehow that process is mind expanding, that there's a greater truth out there. Right. That seems like what from the people I've heard talk about, that seems to be what it is. And that's so fascinating that there's there's fundamentally to this whole thing is a communication between an entity that is other than yourself entities.


So it's not just like a visual experience, like like you're like floating through the world is there's other beings there, which is kind of I don't know I don't know what sort of from a person who likes Freud and Carl Jung, I don't know what to think about that.


That being, of course, from one perspective is just you looking in the mirror.


But it could also be from another perspective, like actually talking to other beings.


Yeah. That you mentioned young. And I think that's he's particularly interesting. And it kind of points to something I was thinking about saying is that I think what might be going on natural from a naturalistic perspective. So regardless, you know, whether or not there are you know, it doesn't depend on autonomous entities out there. What might be happening is that just. Dissociative, not the level of of learning the. The comprehension might be so beyond what someone is is used to, that the only way for the nervous system, for the for the aware sense of self to orient towards it is all by metaphor.


And so I do think, you know, when we get into these realms as as as a strong empiricist, I think we always got to be careful and be as grounded as possible. But I'm also willing to speculate and sort of cast and that's wide with caveat. But, you know, I think of things like archetypes and, you know, you know, it's plausible that there are certain stories. They're certain, you know, we've gone through millions of years of evolution.


It may be that we have certain. Characters and stories that are sort of that are central nervous system is sort of wired to tend to the stories that we carry those stories in us right in the sun, them in a certain kind of way.


And we think about stories like our sense of self is basically narrative self as a story. And we think about. The world of stories, this is why metaphors are always more powerful than, you know, sort of laying out all the details all the time, you know, speaking in parables. It's like if you really get you know, this is why as much as I hate it, if you're presenting to Congress or something and you have all the the best data in the world, it's not as powerful as that.


One anecdote as as as the mom dying of cancer that had the psilocybin session and it transformed her life. That's a story that's meaningful. And so when this kind of unimaginable kind of change in an experience happens with DMT ingestion, it these stories of entities, they they might be that, you know, stories that are constructed that is the the closest, which is not to say the stories aren't real. I mean, I think we're getting delayers where.


What it doesn't really matter, right? Yeah, yeah, it's the closest we can come to making sense of it because I do what we do know about these psychedelics. One of the levels beyond the receptor is that the brain is communicating it with itself in a massively different way. There's massive communication with areas that don't normally communicate.


And so it I think that comes with. Both it's casting the nets wide. I think that comes with the insights and helpful novel ways of thinking, I do think it comes with false positives. You know, there could be some of the delusion. And so, you know, when you're so far out there, like with Demet experience, like maybe alien is the best way that the mind can wrap some arms around that.


So I don't know how much you're familiar with Joe Rogan because he does bring up DMT quite a bit. It's almost a meme. It is a dream. Have you ever what have you ever tried to empty? I mean, he I think he talks about this experience of having met other entities and they were mocking him. I think if I remember the experience correctly, like laughing at him and saying if you if you or something like that, I may be misremembering this, but but there's a general mockery.


And the the what he learned from that experience is that he shouldn't take himself too seriously. So it's the dissolution of the ego and so on. Like, what do you think about that experience? And maybe if you have more general things about Joe's infatuation with DMT and if he has that important role to play in popular culture in general, I'm definitely familiar with it.


I remember telling you offline that when I first the first time I learned who Joe Rogan was probably 15 years ago, and I came upon a clip and I realize there's another person in the world who's into both DMT and Brazilian jujitsu. And I think both those worlds have grown dramatically since then. That's probably not such a special club these days. So he definitely got onto my radar screen quickly.


You were into both before. It was cool, right?


I mean, it is all relative because there's people that were, you know, before the late 90s and early 2000s were into it and say, you know, you're a Johnny come lately.


But but, yeah, compared to where we're at now. But yet, one of the things I always found fascinating by by Joe's telling of his experience experiences, I think, is that they resemble very much Tarrant's McKenna's experiences with DMT. And Joe has talked very much about Terence McKenna and his experiences. If I had to guess, I would guess that probably just having heard Terence McKenna talk about his experiences, that Joe's that that influenced the coloring because Joe's experience.


It's funny. It's funny how that works, because, I mean, that's why MacKenna hasn't I mean, poets and great orders give us the words to then like start to describe our experiences because our words are limited, our language is limited. And it's always nice to get some kind of nice poetry into the mix to allow us to put words to it right now.


But I also see some elements that that that seem to relate to Joe's psychology. Get just from what I've seen from hours of watching him on his podcast, is that, you know, he's a self critical guy.


Yes. And I think with always is positive, then I'm always struck being a behavioral pharmacologist. And he no one else really says that about cannabis. I'll get back to the Dean thing about he likes the kind of the paranoid side of things. He's like that. You radically examining yourself. Yeah. It's like that's not just a bad thing. That's you need to, like, look hard at yourself and something's making you uncomfortable, like dig into that.


And like, that's his it's sort of along the lines of gorgons with exercise and it's like, yeah, like things are learning. Experiences aren't supposed to be easy, like take advantage of these uncomfortable experience. It's why we call in our research in a safe context with psychedelics. They're not bad trips. They're challenging experiences.


Yes. So, yeah, it's fascinating. Just a tiny tangent.


It's always cool for me to hear him talk about marijuana like weed as the paranoia, the anxiety, whatever that you experience as actually the the the fuel for the experience. Like, I think he talks about smoking weed when he's writing. That's inspiring to me because then you can't possibly have a bad experience. I'm a huge fan of that. Like, every experience is good. It's very gorgons is very good. Is it bad? OK, all right, great.


You know, what's the Guergis is one side of that. He wants it bad. Like he wants the experience to be challenging always. But I mean, like both are good. Like the the few times of taking mushrooms, the experience was like everything was beautiful.


There's zero challenging aspect to it. It was just like the world is beautiful. And it gave me this deep appreciation of the world, I would say. So, like, that's amazing, but also ones that challenge you are also amazing, like all the times to drink vodka.


But but that's another lesson. So back to GMT.


Yeah, Joe's treating cannabis as a psychedelic, which is something that I'd say, like a lot of people treat it more like Xanax or like beer.


Yes. Or vodka.


But he's really trying to delve into those miners. It's been called a minor psychedelics with Dante. You know, as you brought up, it's like the entities mocking him.


And it's like you're not I mean, this reminds me of him and describing his, you know, writing his or just just his entire method of of comedy. It's like watch the tape of yourself. You know, don't just ignore it. Like, that's where I screw it up. That's where I need to do better. This, like, sort of radical self-examination, which I think our society is kind of getting away from because like all the children when trophy's type of thing and it's like, no, no, don't go overboard.


But like, recognize when you've messed up. Yes. And so that's a big part of the psychedelic experience. Like people come out sometimes saying, oh, my God, I need to say sorry to my mom. Yeah. You know, like it's so obvious like or whatever, you know, interpersonal issue or like, my God, I don't I'm not pulling enough weight around the house and helping my wife and, you know. You know, these things that are just obvious to them, the self-criticism, that can be a very positive thing if you act on it.


You've mentioned addiction. Maybe we could take a little detour into a darker aspect of things or not even darker is just an important aspect of things. What's the nature of addiction? You've mentioned some.


Things within big umbrella of psychedelics may be usually not addictive, but maybe MDMA, I think you said, might have some addictive properties.


But the point is, stuff outside of the psychedelics umbrella can often be highly addictive.


So you've studied addiction from several angles, one of which is behavioral economics. What have you understood about addiction? What is addiction from the biological physiological level to the psychological to whatever is interesting with talk about addiction?


Yeah. And the lenses that I view addiction through very much are behavioral economics.


But I also think they converge on I think it's beautiful at the other end of the spectrum, sort of just a completely humanistic psychology perspective and it converges on what people come out of, you know, 12 step meetings talking about.


Can you can you say what is behavioral economics and what is humanistic psychology like? What do you mean by that? And more importantly, behavioral economics ones.


What is that? So behavioral economics, my definition of it is the application of economic principles, mostly microeconomic principles.


So understanding the behavior of of individual agents surrounding, you know, commodities in the marketplace, applying microeconomic types of analyses to. Non-Economic behavior. So basically, at one point, like psychologists figure it out that there's this whole other discipline that's been studying behavior just happened to be all focused on monetary behavior, spending and saving money, et cetera.


But it comes with all of these basic principles that can be wildly and fruitfully applied to understanding behavior.


So so, for example, I've studied things like demand curve analysis of drug consumption.


So I look at, for example, the tobacco cigarettes and nicotine products through the lens of of of of demand curves and in other words, at different prices. If there's different work requirements for being able to smoke cigarettes, sort of modeling price within that price data, there is some indication of addiction.


How much you the habits, the form around these particular use.


It's one one important dimension. So I think a particularly important one there is elasticity or inelasticity, you know, two ends of the spectrum. So that's the price sensitivity. So so, for example, you could have something that's pretty price inelastic like. Like gasoline, so the price of gas at times can keep going up and Americans are just going to pretty much buy the same amount of gas or maybe, you know, the price of gas doubles, but their consumption only decreases by 10 percent.


So it's a proportional reduction. So that's an inelastic. And and that changes like you push the price up high enough. I mean, if it was a hundred dollars a gallon, it would eventually turn. The curve would turn and go downward more more drastically, and it would be elastic.


But you can apply that to someone you know, someone who regular cigarette smoker who who is working for cigarette puffs, who has who's gone six hours without smoking.


And you're asking questions like, you know, how many times are they willing to pull this knob in the lab during this three hour session and do a lot of work like this in order to earn a cigarette? How does that how does the content of nicotine in that affect it? Has the availability of nicotine replacement products like nicotine gum or e-cigarettes affect those those decisions? So you can it's a certain lens of it's sort of a way to take the kind of the classic behavioral psychology definition of reinforcement and which is just basically reward, you know, how much is this a good thing?


And it kind of breaks that apart into a multidimensional space. So it's not just the ideas. Reward or reinforcement is not unidimensional. So, for example, you can unpack that with demand curves at a cheap price. You might prefer one good to another, you know, so the classic example is luxury versus necessity.


So diamonds versus toilet paper.


So at those cheap prices, you can look at something called intensity of demand. You know, if it was basically as cheap as possible or essentially zero, how much would you buy of this? Good. But then you keep jacking up the price and you'll see. So, you know, diamonds will look like the better reward at that at that low price sort of intensity, a demand side of things. But as you keep jacking up the price, you've got to have some toilet paper.


Yes. And we can get into the whole, like, body thing.


But forget that, you know, like Joe's been pushing that to you're going to you're going to hang on and keep buying the toilet paper to a greater degree than you will the diamonds.


Yes. So you'll see a crossing of demand curves. And so what's the better reinforcer? What's the better reward? Depends on your price, you know.


And so that's one that's an example of one way to and that a look at addiction. So specifically drug consumption, which is isn't all of addiction, but it's like. In order for something to be addictive, it has to be a reward and it has to compete with other rewards in in your life. And and one of the two main aspects of addiction in my in my view, and this doesn't map on to how the DSM, the psych psychiatry Bible, defines addiction, which I think is largely bunk.


But there's some value to have some common description.


But it's, you know, how rewarding is it from this multidimensional lens and specifically, how does it how does that rewarding value compete with other rewards, other consequences in your life?


So it's it's not a problem if if the use of that substance is rewarding.


You know, you like to have a couple of beers every once in a while, and it's like not a problem.


But then you have the alcoholic who is drinking so much that they it takes their career, it ruins their marriage. It's in competition with these prosocial aspects to their life.


It's all about compared to the other choices you're making, the other activities in your life. And if it you evaluate, it's a much higher reward. Than anything else that becomes an addiction. Right, right, and so it's not just the rewarding value, but it's the relative rewarding value. And in the other major aspe, again, from behavioral economics, the that the thing that makes addiction is something called delayed discounting. So an economics sometimes it's called time preference.


It's this is it's what compound interest rates are based upon.


It's the idea that delaying a good access to a good or a reward comes with a certain detriment to its value. So we'd all rather have things now than later.


And we can study this at the individual level of would you rather have it nine dollars today or ten dollars tomorrow? And you get when you do that, you get huge differences between addicted populations and non addicted, not just heroin and cocaine, but like just cigarette smokers, like normal everyday cigarette smokers.


And even when you look at something like, you know, monetary rewards and so you can go into the rabbit hole with with this latest killing model. So it's not only those huge differences that that seem to have a face valid aspect to it, like the cigarette smokers choosing this thing that's rewarding today. But I know it comes with increased risk of having these horrible consequences down the line. So it's this competition between what's good for me now and what's good for me later.


And the other aspect about delayed discounting is that if you quantitatively map out that that discounting curve over time so you don't just do the you know how much you know that ten dollars tomorrow, how much is it worth to you today? So you can say, what about nine, what about eight, what about seven dollars. And you can titrate it to find that in difference point. And so we say, aha, six dollars, you know, ten dollars tomorrow is worth six dollars to today.


So it's by the one day it's decreased by 40 percent. We can do that also at one week and one month in one year and ten years and map out that curve, get a shape of that curve.


And one of the fascinating things about this is that whether you're talking about pigeons making these types of choices between a little bit of food now or a little bit of food a minute from now, or rats or like dozens of species of animals tested, including humans, the tendency is pretty consistently that we. We discount hyperbolically rather than exponentially, and what exponentially means is that every unit of time is associated with the same proportional reduction. Every unit of delays is associated with the same causes, the same proportional reduction in value.


And that's the way the compound interest rate, you know, works. You know, that there's every day you get this sort of out of whatever values in there. At the beginning of the day, you get this, you know, we'll give you this amount of extra money to compensate you for that delay. But then the way that all animals tend to function is of this very different way, where the reductions, the initial that initial delay. So like one day's worth of delay, you see a much stronger discounting rate or reduction in value than you do over those.


So you see the super proportional, the changes to these lesser rates. And so the implication of that and I've gone like really into the weeds quantitatively. But what that means is that.


There's these preference reversals when you have curves of that nature. The the the decay, that's hyperbolic. It maps onto this phenomenon we see both in terms of how people deal with future rewards, but also how how perception works when two things are far away, whether it's physical distance or whether in terms of perception or whether it's in terms of time when you're really far away, the value, the subjective value for that further that delayed reward is is larger.


So, for example, like let's say we're talking about three hundred and sixty three hundred and sixty four days from now, you can get nine dollars or three hundred and sixty five days a year. Now you get ten dollars and you're like it's like that's a year like no difference. Like I'll take. Why not get one more dollar. Yeah. You bring that same exact set of choices closer. Nothing's changed other than the time to both rewards. And it's like would you rather have nine dollars today or ten dollars tomorrow?


And plenty of people would say just about the south, go ahead and take it today. So you see this preference reversal. And so that is. That's a model of addiction in the sense that consistently with with true addiction, I would argue, you see this this competition between moler and molecular utility, it's like enter intrapersonal like within the person competing agents. Someone sometimes has control of the bus that wants to do what's good for you in the short term.


And someone in other times is in control of driving the bus and they want to do what's good for you in the long term. So you tell the you know, you're trying to quit and you see a doctor, you see your, you know, 12 step therapist and say, gosh, I know this stuff is killing me. Like, I'm really I'm on the path like I'm done. And that's when you're kind of in their office or wherever you're not, you know, it's not around you.


And then later on that day, your buddy says that, hey, man, I just scored. I got it right here. Do you want it in? That reward is right in front of you. That's like bringing those two choices right in front of you. And it's like, hell, yeah, I want to use this. And then you can go through that cycle for like years of the person telling themselves, I want to quit.


But then other times that same person is saying, I don't want to you know, functionally they're saying I don't want to because they're saying, yeah, give me some.


So in the moment, it's very difficult to quit.


And this isn't just something this is something that has has huge clinical ramifications with addiction, but it's like all humans do it. Anyone who's had hit the snooze alarm in the morning, like the night before, they realize, oh, I got to get up extra early tomorrow.


That's what's ultimately better for me. So I'm going to set the alarm for five a.m..


Yes. And that it goes off at five a.m., you know, and then it's now those two consequences have come sooner.


And it's like, what the hell?


And they hit the snooze alarm sometimes, not just once, but then five minutes later and five minutes later, you know, and so and it's why it's easier to exert exercise self-control at the grocery store compared to in your fridge. Like if that snack is like 30 seconds away in your fridge, you're going to more likely yield to temptation than if it is further away.


So then to take a step back to something you brought up earlier, the inelasticity of pricing, is it from a perspective of the dealers, whether we're talking about cigarettes or maybe venturing slightly into the illegal realm, you know, of people who sell drugs illegally.


They also have an economics to them that they set prices and all those kinds of things. Does addiction allow you to mess with the nature of pricing? So I kind of assume that you meant that there's a correlation between things you're addicted to and, you know, the city of the price so you can jack up the price.


Is there something interesting to be said both for legal drugs and illegal drugs about the kind of price games you can play because the consumers of the product are addicted? Right.


I mean, I think you just described it. Yeah, you can jack up the price. And, you know, some people are going to drop off. But the people, you know, and it's not dichotomous because you could just consume less. But some people are going to consume less. And the people that are most addicted are going to keep you know, I mean, you see this they're going to keep purchasing. So you see this with cigarettes.


And so it's interesting when you interface this with policy, like in one respect, heavily taxing cigarettes is a good thing. We know it keeps, you know, adolescents particularly price sensitive. So you definitely people smoke less and especially kids smoke less when you keep cigarette prices high and you tax the hell out of them.


But one of the downsides you've got to balance and keep in mind is that you disproportionately have working class, poor people. And then you get to a point where someone spending, you know, a quarter of their paycheck is going to smoke no matter what.


And basically, because they're addicted, they're going to smoke no matter what. And you're just yeah, you're you're taxing their existence. Right.


So you're making it worse for them. If they don't if they are completely inelastic, you're actually making that person's life worse, because we know that that by by interfering with the amount of money they have, you're interfering with the other prosocial the potential competitors to smoking.


You know, and we know that when someone's in more impoverished environments and they have less sort of nondrug. Alternatives, you know, the more likely they're going to stay addicted, so, you know, is their data interesting from a scientific perspective of those same kind of games in illegal drugs?


Sort of.


Because that's where most drug I was I mean, I don't know, maybe you can correct me, but it seems like most drugs are currently illegal and so there's still an economics to them. Obviously, that's the drug war and so on. Is there data on the setting of prices or how good are the business people running the selling of drugs that are illegal, or are they all the same kind of rules apply from a behavioral economics perspective? I think so.


I mean, basically that whether they're crunching the numbers or not, they're basically sensitive to that demand curve and they're doing the the same thing that businesses do in an illegal market. And, you know, you want to sell as much of a product to get as much money. You're looking more at the total income. So if you jacked the price a little bit, you're going to get some reduction in consumption. But it may be that the total amount of money that you rake in is going to be more then than it's going to overcompensate for that.


So you're willing to take OK to lose 10 percent of my customers, but I'm getting more and more than enough to compensate from that, from the extra money from the people who still are buying. So I think they're more you know, and especially when we get to the lower, I wouldn't be surprised if people are crunching those numbers and looking at the bankers, maybe at the you know, at the really high levels of the, you know, up the chain cartels.


And I don't know, I that wouldn't surprise me at all. But I think it's probably even more implicit at the at the lower levels where something you brought up drug policy. I will say that for four years now, it's been this kind of unquestioned goal by, for example, the the drug czar's office in the US to make the price of illegal drugs as high as possible without this kind of nuanced approach that, um.


Yeah, if you make you know, for some people, if you know, if you make the price so high, you're actually making things worse. I mean, I'm all about reducing the problems associated with drugs and drug addictions. And part of that is the are more direct consequences of those drugs themselves.


But a whole lot is what you get from indirectly and sort of the ink, both for the individual and for society society. So like making a poor person who doesn't have enough money for their kids, making them even poorer. So now you've made their their children's future worse because they're growing up in deeper poverty, because you've essentially levied a tax onto this person who's heavily addicted. But then at the societal level, you know, so everything we know about the drug war in terms of the heavy criminalization and filling up prisons and reducing employment and educational opportunities, which in the big picture we know are the things that.


In a free market, compete against some of the worst problems of addiction is actually having educational and employment opportunities, but when you give someone a felony, for example, you're pretty much guaranteeing they're never going to go very high on the economic ladder. And so you're making drugs a better reward for that person's future.


So this is a quick step into the policy realm. And I think for both you and I, I'm not sure you can correct me, but I'm more comfortable into studying the effects of drugs on the human behavior and human psychology versus a policy that seems like a whole giant mess.


But, you know, there's some libertarian candidates for president and just libertarian thinkers that had a nice thought experiment of possibly legalizing. I've spoken about possibly legalizing basically all drugs in your intuition, do you think?


A world where all drugs are legal is a safer world or a less safe world for the users of those drugs.


It really depends on what we mean by legalization. So this is one of my beefs with this. You know how these things are talked about. I mean, we have very few completely laissez faire, you know, legal drugs. So even caffeine is one of the few examples. So, for example, caffeine and tea and coffee is in that realm. Like there's no limits, no one's testing, there's no laws regulation at any level of how much caffeine you're allowed to buy or how much.


But even like with this Starbucks like nitro, there are rules with soda and with canned products. You can only put so much in there. Yeah. Yeah. So there's this is FDA regulated and it's kind of weird because there's a limit to sodas that's not there for energy drinks and other things.


So but you know, so even caffeine, it depends on what product we're talking about. Like if you're like NoDoz and other caffeine products over the counter, like you can't just put eight hundred milligrams in there. The pills are like one or two hundred milligrams. And so it's FDA regulated as an over-the-counter drug, some of the most dangerous drugs in society, I would say arguably one of the most dangerous class of drugs of the volatile anesthetics, huffing people huffing gasoline and airplane glue.


Tall, you mean what? Not severely damaging to the nervous system? Pretty much legal. But there's some regulation in the sense that there's a warning label like it's legal to do it. Not that it necessarily they're busting people for this, but, you know, it's against federal law to use this in a way other than intended type. The basic thing I don't have this, you know, your paint thinner or whatnot at least keeps people from selling it for that like.


No, because they're going to they're going to go after that person.


They're not going to be able to find the 12 year old who's huffing.


So anyway, just as some extreme examples at the end and then. You know, even the so-called illegal schedule one drug psilocybin, we do plan in and in terms of schedule two, which is ironically less restrictive than psilocybin, but methamphetamine and cocaine. Idun, human research with my research has been legal.


So they're scheduled compounds, but they're not completely illegal, like you can do research with them with the appropriate licenses and approval.


So there really is no such thing. And like alcohol, well, it's illegal if you're 12 years old or 18 years old or 20 years old. And for anyone, it's illegal to be drinking it while you're driving. So there's always a nuance in those rules dichotomy.


And I actually should admit it's been on my to do list for a while to buy in Massachusetts. Some like edibles by weed legally I. Yeah, haven't done their messages. Let's put it this way. And I wonder what that experience is like, because I think it's fully legal in Massachusetts. And so I wonder what legal drugs look like to me. You know, I grew up with even weed being like, you know, not it's like this forbidden thing, you know, not not forbidden, but illegal.


You know, most people of course, I never partake, but most people I knew would attain it illegally. And so that big switch that's been happening across the country, there's like federal stuff going on to make marijuana legal federally. I'm half paying attention.


There's some movement there in the House passed bill that's not going to be passed by the by the Senate.


But yeah, but there's clearly a change, right? It's moving in a trend. So that's an example of a drug that used to be illegal and now becoming more and more and more illegal.


So I wonder what like cocaine being legal looks like, right?


What a society with cocaine being looks like the rules around it.


You know, the processes in which you can consume it in a safer way and be more educated about the consequences, be able to control those and like purity, much better be able to get help for overdose. I don't know all those kinds of things. I it does in a utopian sense, feel like legalizing drugs. Least should be talked about and considered versus keeping them in the dark.


I agree, but yeah.


So that in your sense.


It's possible that in 50 years we'll legalize all drugs and it makes for a better world, the way I like to talk about it is that I would say that we it's possible and it would probably be a good thing if we regulate all drugs.


How would you regulate like cocaine, for example? Is there are ideas there? So.


Yeah. And you were already, you know, going, you know where I was going with that kind of first I described how there's always and it wasn't even like the cannabis in Massachusetts federally illegal. So, for example, if I was like and I, you know, colleagues that do cannabis research where they get people high in the lab, like you're a federally funded researcher with NIH funds, you can't get that that stuff from the dispensary because you're breaking a federal law, even though the feds don't have the resources to go after, they don't want the controversy at this point to go after the individual users or even the sellers in those legal states.


So there's always this nuance, but it's it's about right, the right regulation. So I think we already know enough that.


For example, like, I think safe injection sites for hard drugs makes a lot of sense, like I wouldn't want heroin and cocaine at the convenience stores and I don't think maybe there's some extreme libertarians that want that. I think even the folks that identifies libertarians, probably most of them don't lie.


I don't know, like not all of them want that.


You know, I think that as a form of regulation, like, look, if you're using these hard drugs on a on a regular basis, you're putting yourself at risk for lethal overdose. You're putting yourself at risk for catching HIV and hepatitis. If you're going to do it, if you're doing it anyway, come to this place where at least you're not like, you know, pulling the water out of, like, you know, the puddle on the side of the street.


This is done by professionals and those professionals able to educate you also. So like a 7-Eleven clerk may not be both capable of helping you to to inject the drug properly, but also won't be equipped to educate you.


But the negative consequences of those kinds of things.


That's a huge part of it, the education. But then I think with the opioids, like the big part of it is just like. With naloxone, which is an antagonist, it goes into the the receptor. It's called Narcan, that's the trade name, but it's what they revive people on an opiate overdose. That's almost completely effective. Like if there's a medical professional there and someone is OD'ing on an opioid, they're virtually guaranteed to live. Like that's remarkable that if one hundred percent of the opioid crisis, you know, if all of those people right now that are dying, we're doing that in the presence of a medical professional, like even like a nurse with Narcan, there'd be basically almost no deaths.


There's always some exceptions, but, you know, almost no deaths like that staggering to me. So the idea that people are doing this, you know, that we could have that level of positive effect without encouraging the drug. And this is where you get into this, like, terrain of like sending the wrong message. And it's like, no, you can do that. You can say, like, we're not encouraging this. In fact, probably one of the greatest advertisements for not getting hooked on heroin is like visiting a methadone clinic, visiting a safe injection site.


Like like this is not like an advertisement for getting hooked on this drug, but knowing that we can save people. Now, you have a landscape here because a lot of times it's just like supervised injection. But you bring your own stuff, you bring your own heroin, which could still be, you know, dirty and filled with fentanyl and fentanyl derivatives, which because of the incredible potency and the more difficulty measuring it in some differences at the receptor like you may be more likely, you are more likely on average to lethally overdose on it.


So you could the the level that's been more explored in Switzerland is in some places is is you actually provide the drug itself and you supervised the injection. So I don't like that idea. Yeah, I didn't have public health data are completely on the side of there's really no credible evidence to this.


If we allow that, we're sending the wrong message and everyone's going to I mean, I'm not shown up like, you know, and it's different by drug. Like, yeah, you legalize you set up cannabis shops and some people are going to say, it's OK, I'm going to go there. I don't think a whole lot of people are going to go to one of these places and say, I'm going to shoot up heroin for the first time because and even if, like, you know, it's a country of 300 million people, like even if someone does that, you have to compare this to the every day people are dying from opioid overdoses like people's kids, people's uncles, people like these are real lives are being shattered.


So you just look at that. And then the other thing, and I know this from having done residential even like non treatment research where we just have a cocaine user or something, stay on our inpatient ward for a month and you really get to know them. And sometimes you see, like oftentimes that's the first time this person has had a discussion with a medical professional, any type of professional in their entire life around their drug use. Yeah. Even if they're not looking to quit.


And it's like, you know, you could imagine that in the safe injection settings where it's like it might be a year into treatment and they're like, you know, Doc, I know you're not the cops. Like, you really care for me. Like, I think I'm ready to try that methadone thing. I think I'm really I think I want to be conversation about it. Yeah. Yeah.


They get to trust the people and realize that they're they're there because they truly like they have a compassion, a love for this community, like as human beings. And they don't want people to die. And you get real human connections in that. And again, like those are the conditions where people are going to ultimately seek treatment and not everyone always will.


But you're you're going to get that. And then you're you're going to get people like looking into treatment options sometimes in maybe years into to the treatment. So it's like just all of these indirect benefits that I think at that level. I don't know if you'd call that legalizing, you know, the least well regulated.


Right. Whatever that word is. Yeah, well regulated, but out in the open. Right.


Minimizing as many harms as we can, while not encouraging. I mean, we don't encourage people to drink, although, I mean, people die every year from caffeine overdose.


Like, you know, there's different ways to like, you know, just by allowing something doesn't mean we're sending the message that, you know, by saying we're not going to give you a felony, which is actually often the penalty for for psychedelics.


I just actually testify for the Judiciary Committee, the Senate, the Assembly and in New Jersey. And just to move psilocybin from a felony to a misdemeanor, they use different language in New Jersey. It's weird, but like the equivalent of felony misdemeanor. And that was like two people didn't vote for that on the on this committee because it was MIT. One of them said it might be sending the wrong message. And it's like a felony.


I mean, there's real harms, like that's the scarlet letter. The rest of your life, you're stuck at the lower ends of the employment ladder. You're not going to get loans for education. All of this maybe because of a stupid mistake you made once as a nineteen year old doing something that like a presidential candidate could have done and admitted to and had no problem. What drug? Is the most addictive, the most dangerous, in your view? Not maybe not technically like specifically with drug, but more like in our society today, what is a highly problematic drug.


We talked about psychedelics not being that addictive. On the other flipside of that, you mentioned cocaine. Is that is that the top one? Is there something else that's a concern to you? It depends.


And you've already alluded to this nuance. It depends on how you define it. If we're talking about on the ground today. Yes. In, you know, modern society, I'd say nicotine. Tobacco should I mean, in terms of mortality, it kills it kills far more than any other drug known to humankind, four times more than alcohol, like a half million deaths in the US every year and about five to six million worldwide due to tobacco. That's four times more in the US than alcohol.


And if you graph all of the the drugs legal and illegal, like, you know, put all of the illegal drugs in like one category on that figure and you put alcohol and tobacco and that figure, all the illegal drugs combined, barely there are barely visible blip to this incredible like there's not even all the opioid epidemic roll up, along with cocaine and everything else.


Meth barely shows up compared to tobacco.


That's one of those uncomfortable truths that I don't know what to do with. It's like where everybody's freaking out about coronavirus, right.


And the reality is it's all relative.


If you look at the relative thing, it's like, well, why aren't we freaking out about cigarettes?


Which which we are increasingly so over the historically speaking. Right, right. That's like terrorism versus swimming pools.


I remember that being back in that after the war on terror started, like you said, there's not any comparison.


OK, so, you know, that's a little sobering truth there, because I was thinking like cocaine. I was thinking about all of these hard drugs. But the reality is relatively nicotine is the big one.


And you didn't ask about mortality or death. You asked about addiction. But that's that really is hard to hard to evaluate.


It gets into those nuances I spoke of before about there's not a union dimensional way to measure reinforcement. It kind of depends on the situation and and what measure we're looking at. But, you know, more people have access to tobacco.


And I'm not I'm not advocating that we make it an illegal drug. I think that was a it would be a horrible mistake, although there is a very credible push to to mandate the reduction of nicotine in cigarettes, which I have most scientists that study it or for it, I think. There's some real dangers there, because I see that in the broader history of drug use, it's like when has drug prohibition worked? Broadly speaking and and it's. It's to me that that that path would only make sense in very good conjunction with e-cigarettes, which, once they're fully regulated, can be a safer, not safe, but much safer alternative.


And if we don't, if we tax the hell out of cigarettes. And ban every attractive feature like like flavors and everything, then that's going to. Push people to a black market if they can't get the real thing from real sick, like some people will just quit straight out. But I think what the regulators and what a lot of scientists that study tobacco like myself, it's a big part still of what I study on.


They're not used to thinking about the like tobacco, really as a as a drug, largely speaking in terms of, you know, for example, the history of prohibition. And I think of like we already know, there's an illicit market, a black market for tobacco to get around, you know, taxes, I mean, and for selling even loose cigarettes.


That's what initially caused in Staten Island, the police to approach. Was it Eric Garland who is selling loose cigarettes? And he got choked out. I mean, the thing that caused that police contact was he was selling well, I think report it to sell individual cigarettes for like, you know, you could sell it for quarter happens in Baltimore. And it's like that's technically illegal, but. Are you not going to have massive boats of supplies coming over from China and elsewhere of real diesel cigarettes, if you ban the sale of nicotine like it's obviously going to happen and you have to weigh that against.


You know, you're going to create a black market to one side or another and your intuition that really hasn't worked throughout the history when we've tried it right.


But I see a potential path forward, but only if it's well, if it's done in conjunction with e-cigarettes.


If there's a clear alternative, that's a positive alternative, that it kind of steers the population right towards an alternative.


The difference here, the unique thing that could be taken advantage of here is nicotine is by and large not what causes the harm. It's the aromatic hydrocarbons. It's the carcinogens. And in tobacco, it's burning tobacco smoke. It's not the nicotine. So it's not like alcohol prohibition where like, you know, you couldn't create the adults. The near beer is not going to have the alcohol. And so people like here, you do have the possibility of giving away another medium.


The ability to deliver the drug, which still aren't to a lot of people, isn't preferred to the tobacco.


But nonetheless, again, if you overregulate those and make them less attractive, like if you aren't thoughtful about the nicotine limits and thoughtful about whether you're allowing flavors and everything, and if you overtax them, you're actually decreasing the ability to compete with the more dangerous product.


So I feel like there is a potential path forward, but I don't have a lot of confidence that that's going to be done in a thoughtful, analytical way. And I'm afraid that it could decrease the increase of black market calls, all of the harms like every other drug. We're moving away from the heavy from the prohibition model slowly. But the big board ship is like making a very slow turn and like, OK, we really had to step back and question if we want to with nicotine, tobacco, or are we moving into that direction?


Like, yeah, the picture doesn't quite make sense to you. You've done a study on cocaine and sexual decision making. Can you explain? Can you explain the findings, I mean, in a broad sense?


How do you do a study that involves cocaine and the other how do you do a study involving sexual decision making? And then how do you do a study that combines both.


Yes. Sex and drugs to them? Just missing the rock and roll. The two controversial rock and roll isn't very controversial. Yeah, yeah. So the cocaine, lots of hoops to jump through. You got to have a lot of medical support. You've got to be at a basically an institution, a research unit like I'm at that has a long history. And the ability to do that and get ethics approval will get FDA approval. But it's possible.


And whenever you're dealing with something like cocaine, you would never want to give that to a A not someone who hasn't already used cocaine. And you want to make sure you're not giving it to someone who is an active user who wants to quit. So the idea is like, OK, if you're if you're using this type of drug anyway and you're never really sure you're not looking to quit. Hey, use a use a couple of times in the lab with us so we can at least learn something.


And part of what we learn is maybe to help people not use and reduce the harms of cocaine.


So there's hoops to jump through with the sexual decision making. And looked at the main thing I looked at was this model of I applied delayed discounting to what we talked about earlier than now versus later, that kind of decision making that goes along with addiction. I apply that to condom use decisions and I've done probably published about 20 or so papers with this and different drugs.


And and so the primary metric is whether you do or don't use the condom does the right hypothetic.


And so this is using hypothetical decision making. But I published some studies looking at showing a tight correspondence to self reported in correlational studies to self reported behavior.


So this is like so like how do you do a questionnaire kind of thing?


Right. So it's a it's not quite a questionnaire, but but it's a it's a it's a behavioral task requiring them to respond to see you show pictures of a bunch of individuals. And it's kind of like one of these fun behavior. Like in a lot of them you get like the numbers are boring, but it's like, okay, hot or not, like which of these 60 people which have a one night stand with men, women to pick whatever you like, a little bit of this, a little bit that whatever you're into, it's all variety there out of that group.


You pick some subsets of people who you think is the one you most want to have sex with. The least he thinks most likely have an STI or at least likely a sexually transmitted disease by STI.


And then you could do certain decision making. Questions of what I've done is asked, say, this person read a vignette, this person once had sex with you and I met them to get along, um, casual sex.


And they're like a one night stand with a condoms available. Just rate your likelihood from one to one hundred on this kind of scale. Would you use it? But then you can change your your scenario to say, OK, now imagine you have to wait five minutes to use a condom. So the choice is now instead of using controversies, not in terms of your likelihood scale it now it ranges from have sex now without a condom versus on the other end of the scale is wait five minutes to have sex with the condom.


So you rate your likelihood of where your behavior would be along that continuum. And then you could say, OK, well, what about an hour? What about three hours?


What about what about twenty four misunderstanding. Now, without a condom or five minutes later with a condom, right? So what what's supposed to be the preference for the person like is like there's a lot of factors coming into play, right. Right now, there's a pleasure and personal preference. And then there's also the safety.


Those are two like are those competing objectives. Right.


And so we do get it that through some individual measures and this task is more of a face value task where there's a lot underneath the hood.


So for most people, sex with the condom is the better reward. But underneath the hood of that is just that, the purely physical level they'd rather have sex with without the condom, it's going to feel better.


What do you mean by reward? Like when they calculate the trajectory through life and try to optimize it, then sex with a condom is a good idea.


Well, it's it's really based on I mean. Yeah, yeah. Presumably that's the case that that that that there's but it's measured by like what would really that first question where there is no delay, most people say they would be at the higher Netsky a lot of times 100 percent. They said they would definitely use a condom. Not everybody in that we know that's the case. It's like that that some people don't like on. Some people say, yeah, I want to use a condom, but a quarter of the time ended up not because it gets lost in the passion of the moment.


So for the people, I mean, the only reason that people are so behaviorally speaking, at least for a large number of people, in many circumstances, condom use is a reinforcer just because people do it like, you know, why are they doing it?


They're not because it makes the sex feel better, but because it makes that it allows for at least the same general reward, even if actually even if it feels a little bit not as good, you know, with the condom, nonetheless, they get most of the benefit without the concurrent.


Oh, my gosh, is this risk of either unwanted pregnancy or getting HIV or way more likely HIV, herpes in genital warts, et cetera, all the all the lovely ones.


And we've actually done research saying, like, where we gauge the probability of these individual different. And it's like, what's the heavy hitter in terms of what people are using to judge and to evaluate where they're going to use a condom?


So that's why the condom use is the delayed thing five minutes before and then.


Yeah, because we normally be the larger later reward, like the ten dollars versus the nine. It's like the ten, which is counterintuitive if you just think about the physical pleasure. So that's a good that's a good thing to measure. So condom use is a really good concrete kind of quantitative or quantifiable thing that you can use in a study and then you can add a lot of different elements like the presence of cocaine and so on.


Yeah, you can get people loaded on like any number of drugs, like cocaine, alcohol and methamphetamine are the three that I've done and published on.


And it's interesting that these are fun studies men.


I love to get people loaded in a safe context and like but to really it started like there was a really research alcohol.


I mean, the psychedelics are the most interesting, but it's like all of these drugs are fascinating. The fact that all of these are keys that unlock a certain, like, psychological experience in the head. And so there was this work with alcohol that showed that it didn't affect those monitary delay discounting decisions, you know, nine dollars now versus ten dollars later and getting people drunk.


And I thought to myself, are you telling me that that, you know, getting someone that people being drunk is does not cause people, at least sometimes to make. To choose what's good for them in the short term, at the expense of what's good for them in the long term, it's like, you know, bullshit like this we like. But in what context does that happen? So that's what that's something that inspired me to go in this direction of like, aha, risky sexual decisions is something they do when they're drunk.


They don't necessarily go home. And even though some people have gambling problems and alcohol interacts with that, the most typical thing is not for people to go home and log on and change their their allocation in their retirement account or something like that, you know, like but they're more likely risky sexual decisions.


They're more likely to not wait the five minutes for the condom. Right. And instead go no condom, no. Right.


That's a big effect. And we see that. And interestingly, we do not see those different drugs. We don't see an effect if we just look at that zero delay condition. In other words, the condoms right there waiting to be used, would you how likely are to use it? You don't see it. I mean, people people are by and large going to use the condom.


Yeah. So and that's the way most of this research outside of behavioral economics that just looked at condom use decisions, very little of which has ever actually administered the drugs, which is another unique aspect. But they usually just look at like assuming the condom is there. But this is more using behavioral economics to delve in and model something that and I've done survey research on this modeling what actually happens, like you meet someone at a laundromat like you weren't planning on, like, you know, one thing leads to another.


They live around the corner, you know, these things, you know, and like we did one survey with with men who have sex with men and found that. Twenty five percent of them. Twenty four percent, about a quarter reported in the last six months that they had unprotected anal intercourse, which is the most risky in terms of sexually transmitted infection in the last six months in a situation where they would have used a condom, but they simply didn't use one just because they didn't have one on them.


So this to me, it's like if unless we delve into this and understand this, these suboptimal conditions, we're not going to fully address the problem. There's plenty of people that say, yep, condom use is good. I use it a lot of the time. You know, it's like where is that failing? And it's under these suboptimal conditions, which in Frank, if you think about it, it's like most of the case action is unfolding.


Things are getting hot and heavy. Someone's like, you got a condom now. It's like, do they break the action and take ten minutes to go to the convenience store or whatever? Maybe everything's closed. Maybe they got to wait till tomorrow.


And there's something to be studied there on the that just seems like an unfortunate set of like what's the solution to that is.


I mean, what's the psychology that needs to be, like, taken apart there, because it just seems like that's the way of life. We don't expect the things to happen. Are we supposed to expect them better to be self-aware enough about our calculations or you see the ten minute detour to a convenience store as a kind of thing that we need to understand how we humans evaluate the cost of that?


I think in terms of like how we use this to help people. Yes, it's mostly on the environment side rather than on the on the individual side. Yeah.


Although those those interact. So it's like, you know, in one sense, if you're especially if you're going to be drinking or using another substance that that is associated with a stimulant. Alcohol and stimulants go along with risky sex. You know, good to be aware that you might make decisions just to tell yourself you might make a decision that that is going to that you wouldn't have made in your sober state. And so, hey, throwing a condom in the in the purse and the pocket, you know, might be a good idea.


I think at the environmental level, just more condom. I mean, it highlights what we know about just making condoms widely available. Something that I'd like to do is like, you know, reinforcing condom use.


So, you know, just getting people used to carrying a condom everywhere they go because it's such a once it's in someone's habit, if they are saying like a young single person and, you know, it's you know, they occasionally have unprotected sex, like training those people. Like, what if you got a text message, you know, once every few days. Hang on. If you show me a Semak, a photo of a condom, within a minute, you get a reward of of five dollars.


You could shape that up like that. It's a process called contingency management. It's basically just straight up operant reinforcement. You could shape that up with no problem. And and I mean, those procedures have contingency management. Giving people systematic rewards is like, for example, the most powerful way to to to reduce cocaine use and addicted people.


And but but back by saying if you show me a negative urine for cocaine, I'm going to give you a monetary reward. And that has huge effects in terms of decreasing cocaine use. If that can be that powerful for something like stopping cocaine use, how powerful for that could that be for shaping up just carrying a condom? Because the primary, unlike cocaine use here, we're not saying you can't have the main reward, like you can still have sex and you can even have sex in the way that you tell yourself you'd rather do it if the condom is available, you know, so, you know, like you're not you know, it's relatively speaking, it's way easier than like not using cocaine, if you like, using cocaine, it's just basically getting in the habit of carrying a condom.


So that's just one idea of like what there could be.


Also, the capitalistic solutions of like that could be a business opportunity for like a door dash for condoms. Oh, yeah.


Like I thought about this within five minutes, delivery of a condom at any location like Uber for condoms.


I thought about it not with condoms, but a very similar line of thinking line that you're going into in terms of of Uber and people getting drunk when they day into the bar plan to have one or two. They ended up having five or six. And it's like, OK, yeah, you can take that. The cab home. The Uber home. Yeah, but you've left your car there. It might get towed, you might like. There's also the hassle of just you know, you want to wake up tomorrow with your hangover and forget about it and move on like and I think a lot of people in that situation, they're like, screw it, I'm going to take the risk.


Just get it. You know what? If you had an Uber service, where to you know, you have a. To see a car come out with two drivers and one of them two sober drivers, obviously, and they and and the person they the one driver drops off the other, that then drives you home in their car. In your car. Yeah. So that you can I mean, I think a lot of people would pay 50 bucks.


It's going to be more than a regular Uber. Yeah. But it's like it's going to be done. I got the money already. Already spent 60 bucks at the bar tonight. Like, just get the damn thing done tomorrow. I'm done with it. My car, I wake up, my car's in front of my house. I think that would be, I think someone I'm not going to open that business.


Like if anyone hears this and wants to take off with that, like, I think it could help a lot of people.


Yeah, definitely. An Uber itself, I would say, helped a huge amount of people just making it easy to make the decision of going home, not driving yourself.


I read about in Austin where they know where it's at now, where were they outlawed? Uber for a while, you know, because of the whole taxi cab union type thing and how just, yeah, there were like hordes of drunk people that were used to Uber that now didn't have a cheap alternative.


So just the. We didn't exactly mention you've done a lot of studies in Sexual Decision-Making with different drugs. Is there some interesting insights or findings on the difference between the different drugs? So I think you said meth as well. So cocaine, is there some interesting characteristics about decision making that these drugs alter versus like alcohol, all those kinds of things?


I think and there's much more to study with this. But I think the big idea is that the stimulants, they create risky sex by really increasing. The rewarding value of sex, like if you talk to people that are real, especially that are hooked on stimulants, one of the biggies is like sex on coke or meth is like so much better than sex without. And that's a big part of what why they have trouble quitting because it's so tied to their sex life.


So it's not your decision making is broken. It's just the way you allocate. It's a different aspect of their decision.


Yeah. On the reward side, I think on the alcohol, it works more through disinhibition. It's like alcohol is really good at reducing the ability of a delayed punisher to have an effect on current behavior. In other words, there's this bad thing that's going to happen tomorrow or a week from now or 20 years from now. Being drunk is a really good way. And you see this in like rats making decisions. You know, a high dose of alcohol makes someone less sensitive to those consequences.


So I think that's the lever that's being hit with alcohol. And it's the more just the increasing the rewarding value of sex by the psycho stimulants on that side. We actually found that it and it was amazing because like hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent by NIH to study the connection between cocaine and HIV. Like we ran the first study on my grant that like actually just gave people cocaine under double-blind conditions and showed that, like, yeah, when people are on Coke.


Like their ratings of sexual desire, even though they're not in a sexual situation, here are some pictures. But you're just saying they're horny, like you get subjective ratings of how sex, how much sexual desire you're feeling right now. People get horny when they're on stimulants. And you have a lot of people say, duh, if they really know these drugs.


But that's a rigorous study that's in the lab. Just shows like there's a plot dose effects of that.


The time course of that.


It's not just please tell me there's a paper with the plot that shows dose versus evaluation of, like, horniness.


Yeah, we didn't say horniness. We said sexual arousal. Basically, there's a plot. I'm going to find this plot right around the city.


There is one headline from it, some publicity on the work that said horny cocaine users don't use condoms or something like that.


Like journalism wouldn't have put it that way. But like, yeah, that's I guess that's what it finds. So you've published a bunch of studies on psychedelics. Is there some especially favorite insightful findings from some of these the you could talk about maybe favorite studies or just something that pops to mind in terms of both the goals and the like, the major insights gained and maybe the side little curiosities that you discovered along the way?


Yeah, I think of the work with like using psilocybin to help people quit smoking. And we've talked about smoking being such a serious addiction. And so that's what inspired me to get into that was just kind of having like behavioral psychology is my primary lens sort of a. This sort of like, you know, kind of radical empirical basis of it. I'm really interested in the mystical experience and all of these reports very interested. And but at the same time, I'm like, OK, let's let's get down to some behavior change and something that we can record, like quantitatively verify biologically.


So to find all kinds of negative behaviors that people practice and see if we can turn those into positive or change really change it.


Not just people saying, which again is interesting, I'm not dismissing it, but folks that say my life has turned around. I feel this has completely changed me.


It's like, yep, that's good. All right. Let's see if we can harness that and test that into something that. That's real behavior change. You know what I mean, it's quantifiable. It's like, OK, you've been smoking for 30 years. You know, like that's a real thing. And you've tried a dozen times, like, seriously to quit.


And you haven't been able to long term, like, OK, and if you quit, like, well, last year and I'll believe you, but I don't trust everyone reading the paper to believe you. So we're going to have you pee in a cup and we'll test that. We'll have you blow into this little machine that measures carbon monoxide and we'll test that. So multiple levels of biological verification, like now we're getting like to me, that's where the rubber meets the road in terms of like therapeutics.


It's like, can we really shift behavior instance in so much as we talked about, my other scientific work outside of psychedelics is about understanding addiction and drug use. It's like, you know, looking at addiction, it's a no brainer. And smoking is just a great example. And so back to your question. Like, we've had really high success rates. I mean, it really it rivals anything that's been published in the scientific literature. The caveat is that, you know, that's based on our initial trial of only 15 people, but extremely high long term success rates, 80 percent at six months per free.


So can we discuss the details as so, first of all, which psychedelics we're talking about? Maybe can you talk about the 15 people and the how the study ran and what you found? Yeah, yeah.


So the drug we're using is psilocybin and we're using moderately high and high doses of psilocybin. And I should say this about most of our work. These are not kind of museum level doses. In other words, nothing. Even big fans of psychedelics want to take and go to go to a concert or go to the museum.


If someone's at Burning Man on this type of dose, like the probably going to want to find their way back to their tent and zip up and hunker down for, you know, not be around strangers.


Yeah. By the way, the the delivery method. So so sideburn is mushrooms, I guess. What's the usual. Is it edible? Is there some other way, like people are supposed to think about the correct dosing of this? Because I've heard that it's hard to dose correctly.


That's that's right. So in our studies, we use that the pure compounds psilocybin. So it's a single molecule, you know, a bunch of molecules. And we and we give them a capsule with that in it.


And so it's just a little capsule they swallow what?


People, when suicide is used outside of research, it's always in the context of mushrooms because they're so easy to grow, there's no market for synthetic psilocybin, there's no reason for that to pop up on the.


The that the high dose that we use in research is 30 milligrams body weight adjusted, so if you're a heavier person, it might be like 40 or even 50 milligrams. We have some data based on the data we're actually moving into, like getting away from the body weight, adjusting of the dose and just giving an absolute dose. It seems like there's no justification for the body weight based dosing. But I digress. Generally, 30, 40 milligrams. It's a high dose.


And based on average, even though, as you alluded to, there's variability which gets people into some trouble in terms of mushrooms like loss expenses, which is the most common species in the illicit market in the US, this is about equivalent to five dried grams, which is right about where right where MacKenna and others they call a heroic dose. You know, this is not hanging out with your friends, going to the concert again. So this is a real deal dose even to people that like really, you know, just even to psychonauts.


And even we've even had people that. Yeah, as a great Ozma.


Not like I could not for psychedelics. Yeah. Gone as far out as possible.


But even for them, even for even for those who fall to space before. Right.


Right. They're like, holy shit. I didn't know the orbit would be that far out, you know, like or I escaped the orbit. I was in interplanetary space there.


So these folks in the 50s and folks in the study, they're not there's not a question of those being too low to truly have an impact.


Right. Right.


Very out of hundreds of volunteers over the years, we've only seen a couple of people where there was a mild effect of the of the 30 mg and who knows that person's their serotonin. They might have lesser density of serotonin 2A receptors or something. We don't know.


But it's extremely rare for most people. This is like like something interesting is going to happen, put it that way.


And I think that Jamie, his producer's immune to say could. So maybe he's that he's a good recruit for the state to test. So that's interesting.


Now, I'm not the caveat is I'm not encouraging anything illicit, but just theoretically, my first question is a behavioral pharmacologist is like, you know, increase the dose, you know, like, really?


No, but see, the I'm not telling him, Jamie, to do that, OK, like, you know, you're taking the same amount that friends might be taking, but.


Yeah, but he was also referring to the psychedelic effects of edible marijuana, which is is there is there are rules on dosage for like marijuana is there are limits like places where it's this is this all goes it probably is state by state. Right?


It is. But most they've gone that direction and states that didn't initially have these rules have not now have them. So it was like you'll get five, ten, I think ten, five or ten milligrams of THC being a common and and like. And this is an important thing like where they've moved from not being allowed to say like have a whole candy bar and have each of the eight or ten squares in the candy bar being ten milligrams. But it's like, no, the whole thing, because like some kids came by, they they're eating the freaking candy bar.


And it's like if you unless you're a daily cannabis user, if you if you take one hundred milligrams, it's like. That's what could lead to a bad trip for someone, and it's like, you know, a lot of these people, it's like, oh, I used to smoke a little Wheaton College. They might say they're visiting Denver for a business trip. And I'm like, why not? Let's give it a shot, you know?


And they're like, oh, I don't want to smoke something because it's going to be so I'm going to be safer with this out of all this massive, you know, but there's huge tolerance.


So a regular like for someone who is smoking weed every day, they might take five milligrams and kind of hardly feel anything. And then, I mean, they really need something like 30, 40, 50. MG, I have a strong effect, but yeah, so they've evolved in terms of the rules about like, OK, what constitutes a dose, you know, which is why you see less big candy bars and more. Or if you're you're if it is a whole game, but you're only getting a smaller dose, like 10 milligrams or.


Yeah, because that is where people get in trouble more often with edibles. Yeah.


Except Joy Diaz, which I've heard, that's the way I want to talk to out of the crazy community is I want to talk anyway. So yeah. For the study of the 15 and the dose might be a question. And so like what was the recruitment based on. What was the like, how did the study conducted.


Yeah. So the recruitment and I really like this fact. It wasn't people that largely were you know, we were honest about what we were studying, but for most people it was they were in the category of like, you know, not particularly interested in psychedelics, but more of like they want to quit smoking. They've tried everything but the kitchen sink. Yeah. And this sounds like the kitchen sink is like, well, it's hopkins', so, you know, thinking that sounds like it's safe enough.


So like, what the hell, let's give it a shot. Like, most of them were in that category, which I really, you know, I appreciate because it's more of a test, you know, of of of.


Yeah. Just like a better model of what if these are approved as medicines. Like what you're going to have the average participant, you know, be like. And so that the therapy involves a good amount of of non psilocybin sessions, of preparatory sessions, like eight hours of of getting to know the person, like the two people who are going to be their guides or the person in the room with them during the experience, having these discussions with them where you're both kind of rapport building, just kind of discussing their life, getting to know them, but then also telling them, preparing them about the the psilocybin experience.


So it could be scary in the sense what here's how to handle stress, like go be open. And also during that preparation time, preparing them to quit smoking, using really standard bread-and-butter techniques that can all fall under the label typically of the cognitive behavioral therapy, just stuff like.


Before you quit, we assign a target quit date ahead of time, you're not just quitting on the fly and that happens to be the target date in our study was the day that where they got the first assignment.


But doing things like keeping a smoking diary, like, OK, during the three weeks until you quit, every time you smoke a cigarette, just like jot down what you're doing, what you're feeling, what situation, that type of thing, and then having some discussion around that and then going over the pluses and minuses in their life, that smoking kind of comes with being honest about the this is what it does for me. This is why I like it.


This is why I don't like it. Preparing for like what if you what if you do slip how to handle it, like don't dwell on guilt because that leads to more full on relapse, you know, just kind of treat it as a learning experience, that type of thing. Then you have the recession day where they come in. They they.


Five minutes of questionnaires, but pretty much they jump into the wee wee touch base with them, the we we give them the capsule. It's a serious setting, but, you know, a comfortable one there in a room that looks more like a living room than like a research lab. We measure their blood pressure and experience, but kind of minimal kind of medical vibe to it and.


They lay down on a couch and it's it's a purposefully and introspective experience, so they're laying on a couch during most of the five to six hour experience in the wearing eyeshades, which is a better connotation as a name than blindfold like you, the ring eyeshades.


But that's and they're wearing headphones to which music is played mostly classical, although we've done some variation of that.


Have a paper that was recently accepted, kind of comparing it to more like gongs and and harmonic balls and that type of thing.


Kind of like sound kind of you've you've also out of the science and of a paper on the musical accompaniment to the psychedelic experiences.


And we found basically that the about the same effect, even by a train, not significant, but a little bit better of an effect, both in terms of subjective experience and long term, whether it helps people quit smoking just a little tiny, non significant trend, even favoring the the novel playlist with the Tibetan singing bowls and the gongs and didgeridoo and all of that.


And so it's just saying, OK, we can deviate a little bit from this, like it goes back to the 1950s of this method of using classical music as part of the psychedelic therapy.


But they're listening to the music and they're not playing in real time. You know, it's like, you know, there to just be the baby. You're not the decision-maker for today. Go inward, dressed like go be open. And pretty much the only interaction like that we're there for is to deal with any anxiety that comes up. So guide is kind of a misnomer in a sense. It's we're more of a safety net. And so, like, tell us if you feel some butterflies that we can provide reassurance.


A hold of their hand can be very powerful. I've had people tell me that that was like the thing that really just grounded them. Can you break apart trust?


Let go. Be open what. What? So in a sense, how would you describe the experience, the intellectual and the emotional approach that people are supposed to take to really let go into the experience? Yeah, so trust is. Trust the context, you know, trust the guides, trust the overall institutional context, I see it as layers of like safety, even though it's everything I told you about the relative bodily safety of cells. Nonetheless, we're still getting blood pressure throughout the session, just in case we have a physician on hand who can respond, just in case we're literally across the street from the emergency department, just in case, you know, all of that.


You know, privacy is another thing. You've talked about just trusting that your and whatever happens is just between you and the people in the study. Right. And hopefully they've really gotten that by that point deep into the study that like they realize where we take that seriously and everything else. So it's really kind of like a very special role. You're playing as a as a researcher or guide. And hopefully they have your trust and so trust that they could be as emotional, everything from laughter to tears like that's going to be welcomed.


We're not judging them. It's like it's a therapeutic relationship where, you know, this is a safe container.


It's a safe space, safe space, a lot of baggage that. But it truly is. It's a safe space for that for this type of experience and to like so trust let the let go. So that relates to the emotional like you feel like crying, cry, you feel like laughing your ass off, laugh your ass off.


You know, it's like all the things actually that sometimes it's more challenging with a wreck. Someone has a large recreational use and it's harder for them because people in that context and understandably so, it's more about holding your shit. Yeah, someone's had a bunch of mushrooms at a party. Maybe they don't want to go into the back room and start crying about this, these thoughts about the relationship with their mother, and they don't want to be the drama queen or king that bring their friends down because their friends are having an experience, too.


And so they want to compose, you know, and also just the appearance in social settings versus the so prioritizing how you appear to others versus the prioritizing the depth of the experience. And here in the study, you can prioritize the experience. Right. And it's all about like you're the astronaut and there's only one astronaut.


Yeah, we're ground control.


And I use this often with that photo of the space shuttle on a plaque in my in my office.


And I often use that as an example and say, OK, we're here for you like we're a team, but we have different roles. It's just like you don't have to, like, compose yourself. Like you don't have to be concerned about our safety, like we're playing these roles today. And like, yeah, your job is to go as deep as possible or as far out whatever your analogy is like as possible.


And we're keeping you you safe. And so.


Yeah, and you the emotional side is a hard one, you know, because you really want people to like if they go into realms of subjectively of despair and sorrow, like, yeah, like cry, you know, like it's OK, you know, and especially if someone's, you know, more macho and, you know, you want this to be the place where they they can let go and and again, something that they wouldn't or shouldn't do if someone were to theoretically use it in a in a social setting.


And like in also these other things, like even that you get in those social settings of like, yeah, you don't have to, like, worry about your wallet being taken advantage over, especially for a woman sexually assaulted by some creep at a concert or something, because they're you know, they're laying down the and sources of anxiety that external versus internal.


So you just focus on your own like. Right. The beautiful thing that's going on in your mind and even the cops at that layer, even though it's extremely unlikely.


Yeah, for most people, the cops would come in and bust them. Right. When like even at that theoretical like that one in a billion chance like that might be a real thing psychologically in this context. We even got that covered. This is we've got DEA approval. Yeah. Like you are. This is OK by every level of society that counts, you know, that has the authority. So it's so go deep, trust the trust the setting, trust yourself, you know, let go and be open.


So in the experience and this is all subjective and by analogy, but like if there's a door, open it, go into it. If there's a stairwell, well, go down it or stairway go up it. If there's a monster in the mind's eye, you know, don't run, approach it, look it in the eye and say, you know, let's try it. Yeah.


What's up? Where do you do it?


Here, let's talk turkey, you know, and I enter the chat, OK? Right.


But it really is that it that really is a heart, a heart of this radical courage. I get courage. People are often struck by that. Coming out like this is heavy lifting. This is hard work. People come out of this exhausted and it's it can be extremely some people say it's the most difficult thing they've done in their life, like choosing to let go on a moment, a microsecond by microsecond basis. Everything in their inclination is that is to say stop sometimes, stop this.


I don't like this. I didn't know I was going to be like this. This is too much. And Terence McKenna put it this way. It's like comparing to meditation and other techniques. It's like spending years trying to press the accelerator to make something happen to psychedelics is like you're speeding down the the mountain in a fully loaded semi truck and you're you're charged with not slamming the brake.


It's like, you know, let it happen, you know? So it's very difficult. And to engage always, you know, go further into it and take that radical, you know, radical courage, you know, throughout.


What do they say and self report, if you can put gentle words to it, what is their experience like? What do they say? It's like these are many people, like you said, that haven't probably read much about psychedelics or they don't have like with jargon like language or stories to put on it.


So this is very raw self report of experiences. What do they say the experience is like?


Yeah, and some more so than others, because everyone has been exposed at some level or another. But some of it is pretty superficial, as you're as you're saying.


One of the hallmarks of psychedelics is just their variability, so I'm more it's like not the mean, but the standard deviation is so wide that it's like it could be. Like hellish experiences and and. You know, just absolutely beautiful and loving experiences, everything in between and and both of those like those could be two minutes apart from each other and sometimes kind of at the same at the same time concurrently. So let's see. There's different ways to. There are some union psychologists back in the 60s, Masters in Houston, that wrote a really good book, The Varieties of Psychedelic Experience, kind of, which is a play on varieties of religious experience by William James, that they described this a perceptual level.


So most people have that when, you know, whether they're looking at the room without the oxygen or inside their their mind's eye with the shades on colors, you know, sounds like this is a much richer sensorium, which can be very interesting. And then at another level, a masters in Houston and called it the.


Psychodynamic level, and I think you could think about it more broadly than that, you know, that's kind of union, but just the personal psychological level is how I think of it. Like, this is about your life. There's a whole life review. Oftentimes people have thoughts about their childhood, about their relationships, their their spouse or partner, their children, their parents, their family of origin, their current family. Like, you know, that stuff comes up a lot, including every like like just people just like pouring with tears about like.


Like how much like it hits them so hard, how much they love people?


Yeah, like in a way, you know, people that like they love their family, but like, it just hits them so hard that like how important this is and like the magnitude of that love and like what that means in their life so that those are some of the most moving experiences to be present for us, where people like it hits home like what really matters in their life.


And and then you have this sort of what? Masters in Houston called the archetypal realm, which again is sort of a game with a focus on archetypes, which is interesting, but I think of that more generally is like symbolic level. So just really deep experiences where you have you do have experiences that seem symbolic of very much like, you know, what we know about dreaming and what most people think about dreaming, like there's this randomness of things. But sometimes it's pretty clear in retrospect, oh, like this came up because this thing has been on my mind recently.


So it seems that there seems to be this symbolic level. And then they have this the last level that they describe as the mystical integral level, which this is where there's lots of terms for it. But transcendental experiences, experiences of unity, mystical type effects we often measure. Europeans use a scale that we refer to oceanic boundlessness. This is all pretty much the same thing. Yeah, this is like at some since the deepest level of the very sense of self seems to be.


Dissolved. Minimized or expanded, such as the boundaries of the self go into in here, I think some of this is just semantics, but whether the self is expanding such that there's no boundary between the self and the rest of the universe or whether there's no sense of self, again, might be just semantics, but this radical shift or sense of loss of a sense of self or self boundaries, and that's like the most typically when people have that experience, they'll often report that as being the most remarkable thing.


And this is what you don't typically get with MDMA, these deepest levels of that, the nature of reality itself, the subjectivity and objectivity, just like the the DECIR and the scene become one.


And it's a process. And yeah.


And they're able to bring that experience back. And be able to describe it. Yeah, but but one of the to a degree but one of the hallmarks going back to William James of describing a mystical experience is the enough ability.


And so even though it's ineffable, you know, people try as far as they can to describe it. Well, when you get the real deal, they'll say and even say that they say a lot of helpful things to help you describe the landscape. They'll say no matter what I say, I'm still not even coming anywhere close to what this was like.


The language is completely failing. And I like to joke that even though it's it's ineffable and we're researchers, so we try to f it up by asking them to describe the experience.


I love it going, but to bring it back a little bit. So for that particular study on tobacco, what was the results?


What was the conclusions in terms of the impact of so sideburn on their addiction?


So in that pilot study was very it was a very small and it wasn't a randomized study, so it was limited. The only question we could really answer was, is this worthy enough of follow up? Yes. And the answer to that was APSA frequently, partly because the success rates were so high, 80 percent biologically confirmed successful at six months, that held up to 60 percent biologically confirmed, abstinent at two and at an average of two and a half years of very long.


Yeah. And so, I mean, the best that's been reported in the literature for smoking cessation is in the upper 50 percent, and that's with not one but two medications for a couple of months, followed by regular cognitive behavioral therapy.


Where you coming in once a week or once every few weeks for an entire year.


And so but this is very heavy and this is just like a few uses of.


So this was three doses of psilocybin over a total course, including preparation, everything, a 15 week period where there's mainly like for most part one one meeting a week, and then the three sessions are within that. And so it's and we scaled that back in. The more the study we're doing right now, which I can tell you about, which is a randomized controlled trial. But but it's the yeah. The original, you know, pilot study was, you know, these 15 people.


So given the like the positive signal from the first study telling us that it was a worthy pursuit, we hustled up some money to actually be able to afford a larger trial. So it's randomising eighty people to to get either one psilocybin session. When we've narrowed, we've scale that down from three to one, mainly because we're doing fMRI neuroimaging before and after. And it made it more experimentally complex to have multiple sessions. But one psilocybin session versus the nicotine patch using the FDA approved label like standard use of the nicotine patch.


So it's randomized. Forty people get randomized to suicide in one session. Forty people get nicotine patch and they all get the same cognitive behavioral therapy through the standard talk therapy. And we've scaled it down somewhat. So there's less weekly meetings, but it's both in the same ballpark.


And right now we're still a study still ongoing.


And in fact, we just recently started recruiting again. We paused for a bit. Now we're starting back up with some protections like masks and whatnot. But right now, for the 44 people who have gotten through the one year follow up and so that includes twenty two from each of the two groups, the success rates are extremely high for the psilocybin group. It's fifty nine percent have been biologically confirmed as smoke free at one year after their quit date. And that compares to twenty seven percent for the nicotine patch, which, by the way, is extremely good for the nicotine patch compared to previous research.


So the results could change because it's ongoing, but we're mostly done and it's still looking extremely positive. So if anyone's interested, they have to be sort of be in commuting distance to the Baltimore area. But, you know, to participate. Right, right. To participate. This is this is a good moment to bring up something. I think a lot of what you talked about is super interesting. And I think a lot of people listening to this.


And now it's anywhere from three hundred to six hundred thousand people for just a regular podcast. I know a lot of them will be very interested in what you're saying. And they're going to look you up. They're going to find your email and they're going to write you a long email about some of the interesting things I've found in any of your papers. How should people contact you? What is the best way for that? Would you recommend your super busy guy?


You have a million things going on. What how should people communicate with you? Thanks for bringing this up.


This is a I'm glad to get the opportunity to address this if someone's interested in participating in a study. The best thing to do is go to the website of the study or of like.


Yeah, which website.


So we had all of our psilocybin study. So everything we have is up on one website and we link to the different study websites. But Hopkins psychedelic dog. Mm hmm. So everything we do or if you don't remember that, just, you know, go to your favorite search engine and look up Johns Hopkins psychedelic and you're going to find one of the first hits is going to be, ah, is this website.


And there's going to be links to the smoking study and all of our other studies that there's no link to it there. We don't have a study on it now. And if you're interested in psychedelic research more broadly, you can look up like at another university that might be closer to you. And there's a handful of them now across the country and there's some in Europe that that have is going on. But you can at least in the US, you can look at clinical trials, dot gov and look up the term psilocybin and in fact, optionally people even in Europe can register their trial on there.


So that's a good way to find studies. But for our research, rather than emailing me like a more efficient way is to go straight. And you can do that first. The first phase of screening, there's some questions online and then someone will get back in touch with you. But I do already.


You know, and I you know, I expect it's like going to increase. But I'm already at the level where my simple, limited mind and limited capacity is already I. I sometimes fail to get back to emails. I mean, I'm trying to respond to my colleagues, my mentees, all these things, my responsibilities and as many of the people just inquiring about, I want to go to graduate school. I'm interested in this. I had this.


I have a daughter that took us like a dog and she's having trouble. And so, like, I, I try to respond to those, but sometimes I just simply can't get to all of it already, to be honest.


So from my perspective, it's been quite heartbreaking because I basically don't respond to any emails anymore, and especially, as you mentioned, mentees and so on, like outside of that circle.


It's heartbreaking to me how many brilliant people there are, thoughtful people like loving people, and they write long emails that are really I by the way, I do read them very often. It's just that I don't the response is then you're starting a conversation and there's the heartbreaking aspect is you only have so many hours in the day to have deep, meaningful conversation with human beings on this earth. And so you have to select who they are. And usually it's your family, it's people like you're directly working with.


And even I guarantee you with this conversation, people will write you long, very thoughtful emails like there will be brilliant people, faculty from all over, the students from all over. And it's heartbreaking because you can't really get back to them. But you're saying, like many of them, if you do respond, it's more like here, go to this website. If you're for when you're interested in the study, just it makes sense to directly go to the site.


If there's applications open, just apply for study. Right.


Right, right. Know, is it either a volunteer or if we're looking for somebody, you know, we're going to be posting, including on the Hopkins University website, we're going to be posting if we're looking for a position, I am right now actually looking through and it's mainly been through email and contacts.


But should I say it because I think I'd rather Kessman, that's why I'm looking for a postdoc right now. Oh, great. So I've mentored postdocs for, I don't know, like a dozen years or so. And more and more of their time is being spent on psychedelics, so someone's free to contact me. That's more of a that's sort of so close to home. That's a personal, you know, that like emailing me about that. But I come to appreciate more the advice that folks like Tim Faires have of like I think it's him like five sends emails, you know, like, you know, a subject that gets to the point that tells you what it's about so that, like, you break through the signal to the noise.


But I really appreciate what you're saying, because part of the equation for me is like I have a three year old and like my time on the ground, on the floor playing blocks or cars with him, this is part of that equation. And even if the day is ending and I know some of those emails are slipping by and I'll never get back to them. And I have I'm struggling with it already. And I get what you're saying. It's like I haven't seen anything yet with the type of exposure that, like, you're still bringing exposure.


And then I think in terms of postdocs, this is. A really good podcast in the sense that there's a lot of brilliant students out there that are looking for positive from all over, from Amitay, probably from Hopkins's, just all over the place. So this is and I we have different preferences. But my preference would also be to have like a form that they could fill out for post because, you know, it's very difficult through email to tell who's really going to be a strong collaborator for you, like a strong postdoc, strong student, because you want a bunch of details.


But at the same time, you don't want a million pages worth of email. So you want a little bit of application process easily set up a form that helps me indicate how passionate the person is, how willing they are to do hard work. Like I often ask a question, people. What do you think it's more important to work hard, to work smart and I use that those types of questions to indicate who I would like to work with because it's it's counterintuitive.


But anyway, I'll leave I'll leave that question unanswered for people to figure out themselves. But maybe if you know my love for David Goggins, you'll understand.


So anyway, those are good thoughts about the forms and everything. It's difficult. And that's something that involves email. Such a messy thing. This speaking of Baltimore, Cal Newport, if you know who that is, he wrote a book called Deep Work.


He's a computer science professor and he's currently working on a book about email, about all the ways the emails broken.


So this is going to be a fascinating read. This is a little bit of a general question, but.


Almost the bigger picture question that we touched on a little bit, but let's just touch it in a four way, which is what have all the psychedelic studies you've conducted that taught you about the human mind?


About the human brain and the human mind, is there something if you look at the human scientists you were before this work and the scientists you are now? How is your understanding of the human mind changed? I'm thinking of that in two categories, one kind of more. More scientific and they're both scientific, but one more about you know, more about the. The brain and behavior in the mind, so to speak, and as a behaviorist, all we see sort of the mind is a metaphor for behaviors.


But anyway, that gets philosophical, but. It's really increasing the the so the one category is increasing the appreciation for the magnitude of.


Depth, I mean, so these are all metaphors of of human experience that might be a good way because you use certain words like consciousness and what it's like we're using constructs that aren't well defined unless we kind of dig in.


But into human experience like that, the experiences on these compounds can be so far out there or so deep and that like they're doing that by tinkering with the same machinery that's going on up there. I mean, I'm at my assumption, and I think it's a good assumption is that all experiences there's a there's a biological side to all phenomenal experience. So there is not, you know, the divide between biology, you know, and and and experience or psychology is is it's you know, it's not one or the other.


These are just two two sides of the same. Coin, I mean, you're avoiding the use of the word consciousness, for example, but the experience is referring to the subjective experience. So it's the actual technical use of the word consciousness of of an objective experience.


And even that word, there are some ways that like sort of like if we're talking about access consciousness or narrative self-awareness, which is an aspect of like you can wrap a definition around, then we can't talk meaningfully about it. But so often around psychedelics, it's used in this much more in terms of ultimately explaining phenomenal consciousness itself, the so-called hard problem, you know, relating to that question.


And psychedelics really haven't spoken to that. And that's why it's hard because, like, it's hard to imagine anything. But I think what I was getting is that psychedelics have done this by the reason I was getting into the biology versus mind psychology divide, is that that just to kind of set up the fact that I think all of our experience is related to these biological events. So whether they be naturally occurring neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine and norepinephrine, et cetera, and a whole other sort of biological activity and kind of another layer up that we could talk about, network activity, communication amongst brain areas like this is always going on.


Even if I just prompt you to think about a loved one, you know, like there's something happening biologically. OK, so that's always another side of the coin. So. Another way to put that is all of our subjective experience outside of drugs, it's all a controlled hallucination in a sense like this is completely constructed. Our experience of reality is completely a simulation. So I think I think we're on solid ground to say that that's our best guess.


And that's a pretty reasonable thing to to say scientifically.


Take all the rich complexity of the world emerges from just some biology and some chemicals so that that definition implied a causation it comes from.


And so that's that's what we know. At least there's solid correlation there. And so then we don't dig it.


We delve deep into the philosophy of like idealism or materialism and things like this, which I'm not an expert in. But I know we're getting into that territory. You don't even necessarily have to go there like you at least go to the level of like, OK, we know there is there seems to be this one on one correspondence and that seems pretty solid. Like you can't prove a negative and you can't you know, it's in that category of like me, you could come up with an experience that maybe doesn't have a biological correlate.


But then you're talking about there's also the limits of the science. Is that a false negative? But I think our best guess is a very decent assumption is that every psychological event has a biological correlate. So with that said.


You know, the idea that you can throw alter that biology. In a pretty trivial manner, I mean, you could take like a relatively small number of these molecules, throw them into the nervous system and then have a 60 year old person who has. You name it, I mean, that has hiked. To the top of Everest, and that speaks five languages and that has been married and has kids and grandkids and has, you know, been at the top in, say, this fundamentally changed who I am as a person and the and what I think life is about.


Like, that's. That's the thing about psychedelics that just floors me, and it it never fails. I mean, sometimes you get bogged down by the paperwork and running studies and all that. I don't know all of the the best that can come with being in academia and everything. And then you. And sometimes you get some dud sessions where it's not the format, all the magic isn't happening and it's, you know, more or less or the other a dud or somewhere and mean to dismiss them.


But, you know, it's not like these magnificent sort of reports. But sometimes you get the Full Monty report from one of these people and you're like, oh, yeah, that's why we're doing this, whether it's like therapeutically or just to understand the mind.


And you're like you're still flawed, like, how is that possible?


How did we slightly alter serotonergic neurotransmission and say in this person is now saying that they're making fundamental differences in the priorities of their life after 60 years.


It also just fills you with all of the possibility of experiences we get to have uncovered. If just a few chemicals can change so much.


It's like, man, what if this could be up? I mean, like, because we were just like took a little it's like lighting a match or something in the darkness. And you could see there's a lot more there, but you don't know how much more.


And that's it then like where's that going to go with like I mean I'm always like aware of the fact that, like, we always as humans and as scientists think we figure it out. Ninety nine percent, we're working on the first one percent. And we got to keep reminding ourselves it's hard to do like we figured out, like not even one percent, like we know nothing. Yeah.


And so, like, I can't I can speculate and I might sound like a fool, but like, what are drugs, even the concept of drugs, like 10 years, 50 years, 100 years, a thousand years if we if we're surviving.


Like, you know, molecules that go to a specific area of the brain in combination with technology, in combination with the magnetic stimulation, in combination with the, you know, like targeted pharmacology of like, oh, like this subset of serotonin 2A receptors in the classroom at this time, in this particular sequence, in combination with this other thing, like this baseball cap you wear that like has you know, has has one of the is doing some of these things that we can only do with these like giant like pieces of equipment.


Now, like where it's going to go is going to be endless and it becomes easy to combine with in virtual reality where the virtual reality is going to move from being something out here to being more in there. And then we're like we talked about before, we're already in a virtual reality in terms of human perception and cognition, models of the of the universe being all representations and, you know, sort of color not existing and just our representations of erm wavelengths cetera, you know, sound being vibrations and all of this.


And so as the external VR and the internal VR come closer to each other like this is what I think about in terms of the future of drugs, like all this stuff sort of combines and and like where that goes is just it's it's unthinkable. Like we were probably going to, you know, again, I might sound like a fool and this may not happen, but I think it's possible. You know, to go completely offline, I like where most of people's experiences may be going into these internal worlds, and I mean maybe you through through some through a combination of these techniques, you create experiences where someone could live a thousand years.


In terms of maybe they're living a regular life span, but over the next two seconds, you're living a thousand years worth of experience inside inside your mind, through yeah, through this manipulation of the like, how is that possible?


Like, just based on like first principles, I suppose?


Yes, I think so, yeah.


Like give us another 50, 100, 500. Like who knows. But like how could it not go there.


And a small tangent, what are your thoughts in this broader definition of drugs, of psychedelics, of mind altering things? What are your thoughts about neural link and brain computer interfaces sort of being able to electrically stimulate and read and neuronal activity in the brain and then connect that to the computer? Which is another way from a computational perspective for me is kind of appealing, but is another way of altering subtly the behavior of the brain. That's kind of, if you zoom out, reminiscent of the way psychedelics do as well.




So what do you have like a possible neural link? What are your hopes as a researcher of mind altering devices, systems, chemicals? I guess, broadly speaking, I'm all for it. I mean, for the same reason I am with psychedelics, but it comes with all the caveats. You know, you're going into a brave new world where it's like all of a sudden there's going to be a dark side. There's going to be, you know, that serious ethical considerations.


But that that should not stop us from from moving there. I mean, particularly the stuff from an animal expert. But on the short list, in the short term, it's like, yeah, can we help these serious neurological disorders like Hellyeah like?


And I'm also sensitive to something being someone that has lots of, you know, neuroscience colleagues, you know, with some of the stuff. And I can't talk about particulars. I'm not recalling. But, you know, in terms of, you know, stuff getting out there and then kind of mocking of of of of in all, gosh, they're saying this is unique.


We know this or sort of like this belittling of like, oh, you know, this sounds like it's just a I don't know, a commercialization or like an oversimple I forget what the example was, but something like something that came off to some of my neuroscientific colleagues as an oversimplification or at least the way they set it.


Oh, from annealing perspective. Right. Well, we've known that for years and like but I'm very sympathetic to like maybe it's because of my very limited but relatively speaking, the amount of exposure the psychedelic work has had to my limited experience of being out there.


And then you think about someone like like Musk who's like like who really, really out there.


And you just get all these arrows that like and it's hard to be like when you're plowing new ground. Like, you're going to get you're going to get criticized, like every little word, that this balance between speaking to, like people to make it meaningful, something scientists aren't very good at. Yes. Having people understand what you're saying and then being belittled by oversimplifying something in terms of the public message. So I'm extremely sympathetic and I'm a big fan of.


Like what?


That, you know, what Elon Musk like tunnels did the ground and space and all of this is like, hell, yeah. Like this guy has some he has some great ideas.


And there's something to be said. It's not just the communications of the public eye. I think his first principles thinking it's like because I get this in the artificial intelligence world is probably similar to neuroscience world where Elon will say something like, I worked at MIT, I worked on autonomous vehicles, and he's sort of I could sense how much he pisses off like every roboticist at MIT and everybody who works on, like the human factor side of safety of autonomous vehicles in saying, like math, we need we don't need to consider human beings in the car like the car will drive itself.


It's obvious that neural networks is all you need. Like, it's obvious that, like, we should be able to systems that should be able to learn constantly. And they don't really need Lydda. They just need cameras because we humans just use our eyes. And that's the same as cameras. So like it doesn't. Why would we anything else? You should make a system that learns faster and faster and faster and neural networks can do that. And so that's pissing off.


Every single community is pissing off human factors, community saying you don't need to consider the human driver in the picture. You can just focus on the robotics problem. It's pissing off every robotics person person for saying Lider can be just ignored. It can be camera. Every robotics person knows that camera is really noisy. It is really difficult to deal with. But he's and then every A.I. person who says who hears neural networks and says like neural networks can learn everything, almost presuming there's kind of going to achieve general intelligence.


The problem with all those haters in the three communities is that they're looking one year ahead, five years ahead. The hilarious thing about the quote unquote, ridiculous things that your mosque is saying is they have a pretty good shot at being true in 20 years. And so, like, when you just look at, you know, when you look at the progression of these kinds of predictions and sometimes first principles, things thinking can allow you to do that is you see that it's kind of obvious that things are going to progress this way.


And if you just remove your the prejudices you hold about the particular battles of the current academic environment. And just look at the big picture, the progression of the technology, you can usually you can usually see the world in the same kind of way. And so in that same way, looking at psychedelics, you can see like there is so many exciting possibilities here if we fully engage in the research. Same thing with neural link, if we fully engage.


So we go from a thousand channels of communication of the brain to billions of channels of communication to the brain. And we figure out many of the details of how to do that safely with a neurosurgeon and so on, that the world would just change completely in the same kind of way that Iran is is so ridiculous to hear him talk about a symbiotic relationship between A.I. and the human brain.


But it's like, is it, though? Like it's. Is it because it's I can see in 50 years there's going to be an obvious like everyone will have, like obviously like why are we typing stuff in the computer? Doesn't make any sense.


The stupid people used to type on a keyboard with a mouse. What is that.


It seems pretty clear like we're going to be there. Yeah. Like in the only question is like, what's the time frame? Is that going to be 20 or is it 50 or 100? Like how could we not?


And the thing that I guess upsets with Elon and others is the timeline he tends to do. I think a lot of people tend to do that kind of thing. I definitely do it, which is like it'll be done this year versus like it'll be done in ten years. The timeline is a little bit too rushed, but from our leadership perspective, it inspires the engineers to do the best work of their life, to really kind of believe it, because to do the impossible, you have to first believe it, which is a really important aspect of innovation.


And there's the delay discounting aspect I talked about before. It's like saying, oh, this is going to be a thing 20, 50 years from now. It's like what motivates anybody. And even if you're fudging it or you're like wishful thinking a little bit or let's just say erring on one side of the probability distribution, like there's value in saying like.


Yeah, like there's a chance we could get this done in a year. And you know what? And if you set a goal for a year and you're not successful, hey, you might get it done in three years. Whereas if you had aimed at 20 years, well, you either would have never done it at all or you would have aimed at 20 years and then wanted to taking a 10 or so. And the other thing I think about this, like in terms of his work and I guess we've seen with psychedelics, it's like there's a lack of appreciation for like sort of the variability you need a natural selection, sort of extrapolating from biological, you know, from evolution, like, hey, maybe he's wrong about focusing only on the cameras and not these other things be empirically driven.


It's like, yeah, you need to like when he's you know, when you need to get the regulation, is it safe enough to get this thing on the road? Those are real questions and be empirically driven. And if he can meet the whatever standard is is relevant, that's the standard and be driven by that. So don't let it affect your ethics.


But if he's on the wrong path, how wonderful someone's exploiting that wrong path. He's going to figure out it's a wrong path. And like other people, he's damn it, he's doing something like he's, you know, and. And appreciating that variability. Yeah, you know, that like it's valuable, even if he's not on. I mean, this is all over the place and in science, it's like a good theory. One standard definition is that it generates testable hypotheses and like.


The ultimate model is never going to be the same as reality, some models are going to work better than others, like, you know, Newtonian physics got us a long ways. Even if there was a better model, like waiting in some models weren't as good as were never that successful. But just even like putting them out there and testing, we wouldn't know something is a bad model until someone puts it out anyway. So, yeah, diversity of ideas is essential for progress.


Yeah. So we brought up consciousness a few times. There's several things I want to kind of disentangle there. So one, you've recently wrote a paper titled Consciousness, Religion and Gurus Pitfalls of Psychedelic Medicine. So that's one side of it. You've kind of already mentioned that these terms can be a little bit misused or or used in a variety of ways that they can be confusing, but in a specific way. As much as we can be specific about these things, about the actual hard problem of consciousness or understanding what is consciousness, this weird thing that it feels like, it feels like something to experience, things have.


Psychedelics giving you some kind of insight on what is consciousness, you've mentioned that it feels like psychedelics allows you to kind of. Dismantle your sense of self. Like, step outside yourself. That feels like somehow playing with this mechanism of consciousness and if it is in fact playing with the mechanism of consciousness, using just a few chemicals, it feels like we're very much in the neighborhood of being able to maybe understand the actual biological mechanisms of how consciousness can emerge from the brain.


So, yeah, there's there's a bunch there. I think my preface is that I certainly have opinions that are out that I can say here are my best speculations as a as a as just a person and an armchair philosopher. And it's that philosophy is certainly not my my training and my expertise. So I have thoughts there. But that I recognize are completely in the realm of speculation that are like things that I would love to wrap empirical science around, but that are.


You know, there's no data and getting to the hard problem, like no conceivable way, even though I'm I'm very open, like I'm hoping that that problem can be cracked. And I do I as an armchair philosopher, I do think that is a problem. I don't think it can be dismissed. As some people argue, it's not even really a problem that it strikes me that that explaining just the existence of phenomenal consciousness is a problem. So anyway, I very much keep that divide in mind when I talk about these things, what we can really say about what we've learned through science, including by psychedelics versus like what I can speculate on in terms of, you know, the nature of reality and consciousness.


But in terms of. By and large, skeptically, I have to say, psychedelics have not really taught us anything about the nature of consciousness. I'm hopeful that they will they they have been used around certain I don't even know features is the right term, but things that are called consciousness, a consciousness can refer to not only just phenomenal consciousness, which is like the source of the hard problem and what it is to be like Nagel's description.


But the sense of self or which can be sort of like the experiential self moment to moment where it can be like the narrative self, the stringing together of stories. So those are things that I think can be and a little bit has been done with with psychedelics regarding that. But I think there's far more potential. But. So, like, one story that unfolded is that psychedelics acutely have effects on the default mode network, a certain pattern of activation amongst a subset of brain areas that is associated with self-referential processing seems to be more active, more communication between these areas like the posterior cingulate cortex and the medial prefrontal cortex, for example, being parts of this that are and others that are tied with sort of thinking about yourself, remembering yourself in the past, projecting yourself into the future.


And so it's an interesting story emerge when it was found that when psilocybin is on board in the person system, that there's a there's less communication amongst these these areas. So with resting state fMRI imaging that there's there's less synchronization or presumably communication between these areas. And so I think it was has been overstated in terms of how we see this is like this is the dissolving of the ego. This is the story made a whole lot of sense. But there's several I think that story is really being challenged.


Like, one, we see increasing number of drugs that are that that decouple that network, including ones that aren't psychedelic.


So this may just be a property, frankly, of being like, you know, screwed up, you know, like being out of your head, being like like, you know, anytime you mess with a perception system, maybe it screws up some some just our ability to just function in the holistically like we do in order. Yeah. For the brain to perceive stuff, to be able to map it to memory, to connect things together, the whole recur mechanism that that could just be messed with.




And it could and I'm speculating it could be tied to more if you had to download the language everyday language like not feeling like yourself.


So whether that be like really drunk or really hopped up on amphetamine or, you know, like we found it like decoupling is the default mode network on Salvin Aulnay, which is a smokeable psychedelic, which is a non classic psychedelic, but another one where like DMT, where people are often talking to entities and that type of thing. That was a really fun study to run. But nonetheless, most people say it's not a classic psychedelic and doesn't have some some of those phenomenal features that people report from classic psychedelics and not sort of the clear sort of ego loss, not at least not in the way that people report it with classic psychedelics.


So you get it with all these different drugs. And so and then you also see just broad, broad changes in network activity with other networks.


And so I think that story took off a little too soon, although so I think in the story that the Dhiman the default mode network relating to the self and I know some neuroscientists, it drives him crazy. If you say that it's the ego, it's like but self-referential processing, if you go that far like that was already known before psychedelic psychedelics didn't really contribute to that. The idea that this type of brain network activity was related to a sense of self.


But it is absolutely striking that psychedelics that people report with pretty high reliability, these unity experiences that where people subjectively like like they report losing or get like the boundaries of that however you want to say it, like like these these unique experiences, I think we can do a lot with that in terms of figuring out the nature of the sense of self. Now, I don't think that's the same as the hard problem or or the existence of phenomenal consciousness, because you can build an A.I. system and you correct me if I'm wrong, that, like, will pass a Turing test in terms of demonstrating the qualities of, like a sense of self.


It will talk as if there's a self and there's probably a certain, like algorithm or. Whatever, like computational, like scaling up of computations that results in somehow, and I think this is the argument with with humans, with some have speculated this, why do we have this illusion of the self that's that's evolved, that we might find this with A.I. that like it works, you know, having a sense of self or in that state it incorrectly, like acting as if there is a an agent at play and behaviorally acting like, you know, there is a there is a self that might kind of work.


And so you can program a computer or a robot to basically demonstrate, have an algorithm like that and demonstrate that type of behavior. And I think that's completely silent on whether there's an actual experience inside there.


I've been struggling to find the right words and how I feel about that whole thing. But because I've said it poorly before, I've before said that there's no difference between the appearance and the actual existence of consciousness or intelligence or any of that. What I really mean is.


The the more the appearance starts to be look like the thing, the more there's this area where it's like, I don't think. I don't our whole idea of what is real and what is just an illusion is not the right way to think about it. So the whole idea is like if you create a system that looks like it's having fun, the more it's realistically able to portray itself as having fun, like there's a certain gray area, which it's the system is having fun and say with intelligence and with consciousness.


And we humans want to simplify it. Like it feels like the way we simplify the existence and the illusion of something is is missing the whole truth of the nature of reality, which we're not yet able to understand.


Like it's the one percent we only understand one percent currently. So we don't have the right physics to talk about things. We don't have the right science to talk about things. But to me, like the faking it and actually it being true is the difference is much smaller than when humans like to imagine. That's my intuition, but philosophers hate that because and guess what, it's philosophers, what have you actually built?


So to me is that's the difference in philosophy and engineering. It feels like if we push the creation, the engineering, like fake it until you make it all the way, which is like fake consciousness, until you realize, holy crap, this thing is conscious, fake intelligence, until you realize, holy crap, this intelligence.


And from the day my curiosity was psychedelics and just neurobiology. Neuroscience is like it feels. I'm I love the armchair. I love sitting in that armchair because it feels like at a certain point you're going to think about this problem and there's going to be an aha moment.


Like that's what the armchair does. Sometimes science prevents you from really thinking, right, wait. Like, it's really simple, there's something really simple, like there's some that could be some dance of chemicals that were totally unaware of, not from not from aspects of like which chemicals that combine with which biological architectures, but more like we were thinking of it completely wrong. That just out of the blue, like maybe the human mind is just like a radio that tunes into some other medium where consciousness actually exists, like those weird sort of hypothetical.


But maybe we're were just thinking about the human mind. Totally wrong. Maybe there's no such thing as individual intelligence. Maybe it is all collective intelligence between humans. Like maybe the intelligence is possessed in the communication of language between minds. And then, in fact, consciousness is a property of that language versus a property of the individual minds. And somehow the neurotransmitters will be able to connect to that. So then A.I. systems can join that common collective intelligence, that common language, you know, just thinking completely outside of the box, as you said, a bunch of crazy, I don't know.


But thinking outside the box and there's something about subtle manipulation of the chemicals of the brain which feels like the best or one of the great chances of the scientific process leading us to an actual understanding of the hard problem.


So I am very hopeful that and so I mean, I'm a radical empiricist, which I'm very strong with with that like that's what, you know.


So, you know, science isn't about ultimately being a materialist. It's like it's about being an empiricist, in my view.


And so, for example, I'm very fascinated by the so-called sci phenomenon like stuff that people just kind of reject out of hand.


You know, I kind of orient towards that stuff with with an idea of, you know, hey, look, you know, what we consider like anything is just as natural. And so but the boundary of what what what we observe in nature, like what we recognize as in nature moves like what we do today and what we know today would only be described as magic five hundred years ago or even one hundred years ago somewhere.


So there will surely be things that like you explain these phenomenon that just sound like completely they're supernatural now where there may be for some of it, some of it might turn out to be a complete bunk and some of it might turn out to be it's just another layer of nature, whether we're talking about multiple dimensions are invoked or something we don't even have the language toward. And what you're saying about the moving together of the model and the real thing of conscious, like, I'm very sympathetic to that.


So that's that part of like on the armchair side where I want to be clear, I can't say this as a scientist, but just terms of speculating, I find myself attracted to these more of the sort of the patterns Sikhism ideas. And that kind of makes sense to me. I don't know if that's what you meant there, but seemed like related the sense that ultimately if.


If you were completely model, like it's if you completely model, unless you dismiss, like the the idea that there is a phenomenal consciousness, which I think is hard, given that we all I seem like I have one. That's really all I know. But that's so compelling. I can't just dismiss that. Like, if you're if you take that as a given, then the only way for the model and the real thing to merge is if there is something baked into.


The nature of reality, you know, sort of like in the history of like they're certain, just like fundamental forces or fundamental like in that, and that's been useful for us. And sometimes we find out that that's pointing towards something else or sometimes it's still. Seems like it's a fundamental incident. It's a placeholder for someone to forget, but there's something like this is just a given, you know, this is just, you know, and sometimes something like gravity seems like a very good placeholder.


Then there's something better that comes to replace it. So, you know, I kind of think about consciousness.


And I didn't I kind of had this inclination. I knew there was a term for Rosselli and monism, the idea that which is a a form of pain.


And again, I'm not I'm an armchair philosopher, but not a very good one broadly, I guess. And by the way, is the idea that sort of consciousness permeates all matter in or it's a fundamental part of physics of the universe kind of thing. So. Right.


And there's a lot of different flavors of it as you're as you're alluding to in something that struck me as like consistent with just, you know, inclinations of mind, just total speculation. This idea of. Everything we know in science and with most of the stuff we think of physics really describes. It's all interactions. It's not the thing itself, like there's a there there is something to. The in this sounds very new agey, which is why it's it's very difficult and I have high bullshit like Meader and everything, but like in business, I mean think about like Huxley, Aldous Huxley with his masculine experience and doors of perception, like there's an illness there in Alan Watts and like there is a a nature of being, again, very new agey sounding, but maybe there is something to in.


And when we say consciousness, we think of like this human experience. But maybe that's just that's so processed and so. That's so far so derivative of this kind of basic thing that we wouldn't even recognize the basic thing, but the basic thing might just be this is not about the interaction between particles. This is what it is. Like to exist as a particle, and maybe it's not even particles, maybe it's like spacetime itself. I mean, again, totally in the speculation and something out there in space.


And so it's funny because we don't have the neither the science nor the proper language to talk about it. All we have is kind of little intuitions about there might be something in that direction of the darkness. Right. To pursue and that that in that sense, I find Sikhism interesting in that like it does feel like something fundamental here, that consciousness.


It's not just like, OK, so the flip side consciousness could be just a very basic and trivial symptom, like like a little haak of nature that's useful for like survival of an organism.


It's not something fundamental.


It's just very basic, boring chemical thing that somehow has convinced us humans because we're very human centric, we're very self centric, that this is somehow really important. But it's actually pretty obvious.


But or it could be something really fundamental to the nature of the universe.


So both of those are, to me, pretty compelling and I think eventually scientifically testable. It is so frustrating. That's hard to design a scientific experiment currently, but I think it's that's how Nobel Prizes are. One is right.


But he did it right until they do it.


And the reason I lean towards and again, armchair speak, if I had a bet like a thousand dollars on which one of these ultimately I would I would head you would lean towards I'd put my bets on on something like Pan Sikhism rather than the the emergence of phenomenal consciousness through complexity or computational complexity.


Because although certainly what if there is some underlying fundamental consciousness, it's clearly being processed. And, you know, in this way you go through computation in terms of resulting in our experience and the experience presumably of other animals. But the reason I would bet on Sikhism is, to me, Occam's razor. It just in terms of truly the hard problem like this, at some point you have an inside looking out and even looking refers division and it doesn't that's just an but just there is an inside experiencing something.


At some point of complexity, all of a sudden you start from this objective universe and all we know about is interactions between things and things happen. And at this certain level of complexity, magically there's an inside. That, to me, doesn't pass Occam's razor as easily as. Maybe there is a fundamental property of the universe. There's both subjective and objective, there is both interactions amongst things, and there is. The thing itself, yes, but yeah, so I'm of two minds, I agree with you totally and half my mind and the other half is I've seen looking at cellular automata a lot, which is complete.


It sure does seem that we don't understand anything about complexity, like the emergence of just the property. In fact, that could be a fundamental property of reality is something within the emergence from simple things interacting. Somehow miraculous things happen and like that. I don't understand that. That could be that could be fundamental that like something about the layers of abstraction, like layers of reality, like really small things interacting. And then on another layer emerges actual complicated behavior, even the underlying things super simple like that process we don't really understand either.


And that could be bigger than any of the things we're talking about. That's the the basic force behind everything that's happening in the universe is from simple things. Complex. Phenomena can happen, and the thing that gives me pause is, is that I'm concerned about. The threshold there, like how is it likely that now there may be and there may be some qualitative shift that in the realm of like we don't even we don't even understand complexity yet, like you're saying, like so maybe there is.


But I do think, like, if it if it is a result of the complexity. Well, you know, just having helium versus hydrogen is a form of complexity. Having the existence of stars versus clouds of gas is a complexity. The the the entire universe has been this increasing complexity. And so that kind of brings me back to then the other of like, OK, if there's. If it's about complexity, then we should then it exists at a certain level in these simple systems, like a star or, you know, they all have a complex at masochism.


That's right. But we humans, the qualitative shift, we might have evolved to appreciate certain kinds of thresholds, right?


Yeah, I do think it's likely that this idea that whether or not there's an inner experience, which is phenomenal, it's the hard problem that acting like an agent, like having an algorithm that basically like operates as if there is an agent, that's clearly a thing that I think has worked and that there is a whole lot to figure out there that that and I think psychedelics will be extremely helpful in figuring more out about that, because they do seem to a lot of times eliminate that or whatever, radically shift that sense of of self.


Let me ask the craziest question. Indulge me for a second. So this is a joke, what we've been talking about, like, OK, now all this seatbelt on, all of this is assigned.


All of that, despite the caveats about armchair, I think is within the reach of science. Let me let me ask one this kind of also within the reach of science. But as Joe likes to say, it's entirely possible. Right? Is it possible?


That with DMT trips when you meet entity's. Is it possible that these entities are extraterrestrial life forms? Like our understanding of little green men with aliens that show up is totally off. I often think about this like what would actual extraterrestrial intelligence look like? And my sense is it will look like very different from anything we can even begin to comprehend. And how would it communicate and how to communicate?


Would it be necessarily spaceships with solar travel or could it be communicating it through chemicals, through if there's the pancake situation, if there's something, not if I almost for sure. No, we don't understand. You know a lot about the function of our mind in connection to the fabric of the physics of the universe. A lot of people seem to think we have theoretical physics pretty figured out. I have my doubts because I'm pretty sure it always feels like we have everything figured out until we don't.


But I mean, there's no grand unifying theory yet, right. But even then, widely recognized, we could be missing out. Like the concept of the universe just can be completely off, like how many other universes are there, although all those kinds of things I mean, just the basic nature of information, the same time time, all of those things.


Yeah, yeah, yeah. Whether that's just like a thing we assign value to that, whether it's fundamental or not. This whole chunk I could talk to Chunka forever about what the time is emergent or fundamental to reality. But is it possible that the entities we meet actual alien life forms? Do you ever think about that? Yeah, yeah.


Yeah, yeah I do. And I've talked to some degree, laid my cards out with by identifying as a radical empiricist, you know, like so the answer is it possible? And I think, you know, ultimately if if you're a good scientist, you got to say now that's at the extremes. It's like, yes, yes. You know, and it might get more interesting when you had you're asked to guess about the probability of that.


Is that a one in one in a million, one in a trillion, one and one in more than the number of atoms in the universe.


Probability and as an empiricist is like, what? What is a good testable like? How would you know the answer to that question? Or how would you be able to validate?


I mean, can you get some information that's verifiable, like like information that about some. Other planet that that or some aspect of it, some. And gosh, it would be an interesting range, but what range of discovery that we can anticipate we're going to know within, you know, whatever a few years next five, 10, 20 years, and seeing if you can get that predict that information now and then over time, it might be verified.


You know, the type of thing like, you know, part of Einstein's work was ultimately verified not until decades and decades later, at least certain aspects to the do empirical observations.


But but it's also possible that the alien beings have a very different value system and perception of the world where all of this little capitalistic improvements that we're all after, like predicting the concept of predicting the future to is like totally useless to two other lifeforms that have that perhaps think in a much different way, maybe a more transcendent way, I don't know.


But so they wouldn't even sign the consent form to be a participant in our marriage?


Yeah, that would not. And they wouldn't understand the nature of these experiments. I mean, that maybe is purely in the realm of the consciousness that the thing that we talked about communicating in a way that is totally different than the kinds of communication that we think of as on Earth, like what's the purpose of communication for us? For us humans, the purpose of communication is sharing ideas. It feels like like converging like it's the Dawkins', like Meems.


It's like we're sharing ideas in order to figure out how to collaborate together to get food into our systems and procreate and then like murder everybody in the neighboring tribe because they'll steal our food like we are all by sharing ideas. Maybe it's possible to have another alien life form that's more about sharing experiences. You know, like it's less about ideas. I don't know.


And maybe that'll be us in a few years. How could it not like instead of explaining something laboriously to you, like having people describe the ineffable psychedelic experience, like if we could record that and then get the neural link of 50 years from now, like, I'll just plug this into your just transferring the. Yeah. And it's like, oh now you feel what it's what it's like. And like in one sense like how could we not go there?


And then you get into the realm, especially when you throw time into it. Are the aliens us. Yeah. In the future or even like a transcendental temporal like the US beyond time. Like I don't know, like you get into this realm was a lot of possibilities.


Yeah. But I think, you know, there is one psychedelic researcher that's who did high dose DMT research in the 90s who speculated that, that there was a lot of alien encounter experiences like maybe these are.


Like entities from some other dimension, or he labeled it a speculation, but, you know, do you remember the name of Rick Strassman or. She did. Yeah, yeah. The dirty work. He labeled it as speculation. But, you know, I think that. Yeah, I think we'd be wise to kind of, you know, it's always that balance between being empirically grounded and skeptical, but also not being and I think in science, too often we are.


Two closed. Yeah, which relates to like you're talking about Eline, like in academia, it's like often like I think you're punished for thinking or even talking about 20 years from now because it's just so far removed from your next grant or for your next paper that you're it's easy pickings, you know, that you're not allowed to speculate.


So I think I'm a huge fan of I think the best way to me at least to practice like science or to practice good engineering is to like do two things and just bounce off, like spend most of the time doing the rigor of the day to day of what can be accomplished now in the engineering space or in the science, like what can actually what can you construct and experiment around do like that? The usual rigor of the scientific process. But then every once in a while, on a regular basis, to step outside and talk about aliens and consciousness, and we just walk along the line of things that are outside the reach of science currently free will the the illusion, the illusion or the perception of the experience of free will of anything, just just the entirety of it being able to travel in time through wormholes.


It's like it's really useful to do that, especially as a scientist, like if that's all you do, you go into a land where you're not actually able to think rigorously.


There's something, at least to me, that if you just hop back and forth, you're able to, I think, do exactly the kind of injection of out of the box thinking to your regular day to day science that will ultimately lead to breakthroughs. But you have to be the good scientist most of the time.


And that's consistent with what I think the great scientists of history like like in most of the the history, you know, the greats, you know the Newtons and you know, Einstein's. I mean, they were there was less of it and enormous change, I think, as time marched on. But less of a separation between those realms. It's like there's the inclination now for it's like as a scientist and this is like this is science. This is my work.


And then this is like my inclination to say, oh, let's don't take me too seriously, because this is my armchair. I'm not speaking as a scientist bending over backwards. You say, you know, the divide that self and maybe there's been less of there's been that evolution and and that's and like the greats like didn't see that. I mean, Newton and you go back in time, it's like that obviously connects to then religion, especially if that is the predominant world.


Newton Like how much you know, like how much time did he spend trying to like decode the Bible and whatnot? You know, maybe that was a dead end.


But it's like if if you really believe in that and that particular religion and you're this mastermind and you're trying to figure things out, it's not like, oh, this is what my job description is and this is what the grant wants. It's like, no, I've got this limited time on the planet. I'm going to figure out as much stuff as possible. Nothing is off the table and you're just putting it all together. So this is kind of trajectories really related to this.


The siloing inscience like, again, related to my like, oh, I'm not a philosopher, you know, whether you could say science or not, not empirical science, but like going to these different disciplines, like, you know, the greats, you know, didn't observe the boundaries, didn't exist and observe them. Yeah.


Speaking of the finiteness of our existence and on in this world. So on the front of psychedelics and teaching you lessons as a researcher, as a human being, what have you learned about death, about mortality, about the finiteness of our existence? Are you yourself afraid of death and how does your view do ponder it? And has your view of your own mortality changed with the research you've done?


Yeah. Yeah. So I do ponder it. And are you afraid of death? Probably on a daily basis. I ponder it. I would I'd have to pick it apart more and say. Yeah, I am afraid of dying like the process of dying, I'm not afraid of being dead. I mean, I'm not afraid of I think it was Penn Jillette that said and he may have gotten it from someone else, but like, I'm not afraid of the year 1862 before I existed.


I'm not afraid of the year twenty to sixty two after I'm gone, like, it's going to be fine.


But yeah, dying. Like I'd be lying if I said I wasn't afraid of, you know, dying. And so there's both like the process of dying, like, yeah, it's usually not good.


It'd be nice if it was after many, many years and just sort of, you know, I'd rather not fall, you know, die in my sleep. I'd rather kind of be conscious, but sort of just fade out with old age.


Maybe, but but like, you know, just being in an accident and like, you know, horrible diseases. I've seen enough loved ones. It's like, yeah, this is not good. This is enough to be you know, I'd like to say that I'm I'm peaceful and sort of balanced enough that I'm not concerned at all. But now, like, yeah, I'm afraid of dying. But I'm also concerned about I think about family. Like, I, I really am afraid or at least, you know, concerned about.


Like not being there, like with a three year old not being there and not being there for him and my wife and my mom through the rest of her life, I'm concerned about not I'm concerned more about the harm that it would cause if I left prematurely and then kind of even bigger along the lines of some of the stuff, the forward thinking we've been talking about.


I think maybe way too much about just like and I'll never know the answer. So even if I lived a hundred and twenty, like but like, I want to know as much as I can, but like, how is this going to work out, like as humans.


Are we in a big one. I think is are we going to. And I don't think unfortunately I'm going to learn it in my lifetime even if I live to a ripe old age. But I don't know, is this going to work out?


Like, are we going to escape the planet? I think that's one of the biggies. Like, are we going to like the survival of the like, I think the next like the time we're in now, it's like with the nuclear weapons, with pandemics and with I mean, we're going to get to the point where anyone can can build a hydrogen bomb, like, you know, it's like you just like the ship or engineer, like the, you know, something that's a million times worse than covid.


And then you spread. It's like we're getting to this period of and then not to mention climate change, you know, it's like although I think that's there's probably going to be surviving humans with that regard, you know, but it could be really bad. But these existential threats, I think the only real guarantee that we're going to get another, you name it, thousand million, whatever years is like. Diversity diverse of our portfolio. Get off the planet, you know, don't leave this one.


Hopefully we keep, you know, but like and I.


You know, it's like either we're going to get snuffed out, like really quickly or we're going to like if we if we reach that point and it's going to be over the next like two hundred years, like like we're probably going to survive like. Like until like I mean, you know, like our son, like it even beyond that, like like we're probably going to be talking about millions and millions of years. It's like and we're we're I don't know in terms of the planet four billion years into this and depending on how you count our species, you know, we're, you know, millions of years into this and it's like it's this is like the point of the rear relay race where we can really screw up.


So that would make you feel pretty good when you're on your deathbed. One hundred twenty years old and there's something hopeful about there's a colony starting up on Mars and it's like, yeah, Titan, like whatever, you know, like yeah.


Like that. We have these colonies out there that would tell me like. Yeah, then at least we'd be good until, like the you know, hopefully probably until the sun goes red giant, you know what I mean? Rather than like 20 years from now when there's some someone with their finger on the nuclear button that just, you know, misperceives a you know, the radar like the signal they think Russia is attacking or really not or China and like that's probably how a nuclear accident war is going to start rather than in or the like I said, these other horrible things does not make you sad that you won't be there if we are successful, proliferating throughout the observable universe that you won't be there to.


Experience any of it? Yeah, go death, right? It's the death because you're still going to die and still going to be over, right? That's, you know, Ernest Becker. And those folks really emphasize the the terror of death, that if we're honest, we'll discover if we search within ourselves, which is like this thing is going to be over most of our existence.


Is based on the illusion that it's going to go forever and when you sort of realize it's actually going to be over like today, like I might murder you at the end of this conversation, it might be over today or like you go on going home.


This might be your last day on this earth. And it's. I mean, like pondering that, I suppose I suppose one thing to be, I, I if I were to push back it's interesting is you actually I think you seek comfort in the sadness of how it will be for your family to not have you. Because the really even even the deeper. Yes, but that's the simple fear. Even the deeper terror is like. Like this, this thing doesn't last forever.


I think I don't know, they're like, it's hard to put the right words to it, but it feels like that's not truly acknowledged by us. By each of each of us, yeah, I think this is getting back to the psychedelics in terms of the people in our work with cancer patients who we had psilocybin sessions to help them and it did substantially help them, the vast majority, in terms of dealing with these existential issues.


And I think, you know, it's something we I could say that I really feel that I've come along and that both being with folks who have died that are close to me and then also that work, I think are the two biggies. And sort of like, you know, I think I've come along and that sort of acceptance of this, like like it's not going to last any whether at the personal level or even at the species level, like at some point all the stars are going to fade out and it's going to be the realm of life, which is going to be the vast majority of it, unless there's a big crunch, which apparently doesn't seem likely like most of the universe.


There's this blink of an eye that's happening right now that life is even possible like the era of stars. So it's like we're going to fade out at some point, like, you know, and then we get at this level of consciousness and like, OK, maybe there is life after death. Maybe there is maybe times an illusion, maybe like, yeah, that part I'm ready for. Like, I'm I'm like, you know, like that that would be really great.


And I'm looking I'm not afraid of that at all. It's like even if it's just strange, like if I could push a button to enter that door, I mean, I'm not going to die, you know, going to kill myself.


But it's like if I could take a peek at what that reality is or choose at the end of my life, if I could choose of entering into a universe where there is an afterlife of something completely unknown versus one where there's none, I think I'd say, well, let's see what's behind that.


That is a true scientist's way of thinking. If there's a door, you're excited about opening it and going in. Right when I am attracted to this idea, like.


You know, it's organized, it's easier said than done to say I'm OK with not existing. Yeah, it's the real test is like, OK, check me on my deathbed. You know, it's like it's arroyos. I'll be all right. And it's a beautiful thing in the humility of surrendering.


And I really hope and I think I'd probably be more likely to be in that realm right now than I would like or check me when I get a terminal cancer diagnosis. And I really hope I'm more in that realm. But I, I know enough about human nature to know that, like, I don't want to I can't really speak to that because I haven't been in that situation. And I think that can be a beauty to that and the transcendence of like.


Yeah. And, you know, it was it was beautiful, not just despite all that, but because of that, because ultimately there's going to be nothing. And because we came from nothing and we dealt with all this shit, the fact that there was still beauty and truth and connection like that, you know, like it just it's a beautiful thing.


But I hope I mean, that it's easy to say that now, like. Yeah.


Do you think there's a meaning to this thing we've got going on life, existence on Earth to us individuals from psychedelics research your perspective or from just a human perspective?


Those those merged together for me because it's just hard. I've been doing this research for almost 17 years and like not just the cancer study, but so many times people like I remember a session and one of our studies, someone who wasn't getting any treatment for anything but one of our healthy, normal studies where he was contemplating the the suicide of his son and just these. I mean, just like the most intense human experiences that you can have in the most vulnerable situations, sometimes like people.


Like, you know, and it's just like you had that it and you just feel lucky to be part of that process, that people trust you to let their guard down like that. Like, I don't know the meaning I think the meaning of of life as it is, is defined meaning. And I think I actually I think I just described it a minute ago. It's like that transcendence of everything, like the it's the beauty despite the absolute ugliness.


It's the it's the end as a species. And I think more about this, like I think about this a lot. It's the fact that.


We are I mean, where we come from, filth, I mean, we're we're you know, we're animals. We come from like we're all descended from murderers and rapists, like we. Despite that background, we are capable of this, the self-sacrifice and the connection and and figuring things out, you know, truth signs and other forms of truth seeking and and an artwork, just the beauty of of of music and and other forms of art, like the fact that that's possible is the meaning of.


Of life, I mean, and ultimately that feels to be creating more and richer experiences, the from a Russian perspective, both the dark, the you mentioned the cancer diagnosis or losing a child to suicide or all those dark things is is still rich experiences and also the beautiful creations, the art, the music, the science. That's also a rich experience. So somehow we're figuring out from just like psychedelics, expand our mind to the possibility of experiences.


Somehow we're able to figure out different ways society to expand the realm of experiences. And from that we gain meaning somehow. Right.


And that's part of like this for going across different levels here.


But like the idea that so-called bad trips or challenging experiences are so common in psychedelic experiences, it's like that's a part of that.


Like, yeah, it's tough. And most of the important things in life are really, really tough and scary. And most of the things like like the death of a loved one, like it's like the greatest learning experiences, things that make you who you are are the horrors.


And, you know, it's like, yeah, we try to minimize them, we try to avoid them. But I don't know. I think we all need to get into the mode of, like, giving ourselves a break, both personally and society societally. I mean, I went through like I think a lot of people do these days in my twenties, like, the humans are just kind of a disease on the planet then and then in terms of our country, in terms of the United States, it's like, oh, we have all these horrible, you know, sins in our past.


And it's like I think about that, like the. I think about it like my my three year old is like, yeah, you can construct a story where this is all just hard. You can look at that stuff and say, this is all just horror. You know, we're yard is like there's no logical answer to our rational answer to say we're not a disease on the planet.


From one lens we are, you know, and like, you could just look at humanity as that, like nothing but this horrible thing you can look at and you name the system, you know, you know, modern medicine, Western medicine, the university system. And it's like you dismiss everything as a big font or like hopefully these vaccines work. And then I'd like to, you know, like I'm kind of glad the Big Pharma was a part of that.


Like, you know, it's like the United States. You can point to the horrors like any other country that's been around a long time and has these legitimate horrors and kind of dismiss like. These beautiful things like, yeah, we have this like modifiable constitutional republic that just. Like, I still think is the best thing going, you know, that that as a model system of like how humans had to figure out how to work together, it's like it's how there's no better system that I've come across.




There's, uh, if we're willing to look for it, there's this beautiful core to a lot of things we've created. Uh, yeah. This country is a great example of that. But most of the human experience has has a beauty to it, even the suffering. Right.


So the meaning is fine. Is choosing to focus on that positivity and not forget it beautifully.


But speaking of experiences, this was one of my favorite experience on this podcast talking to you today, Matthew. I hope you get a chance to talk again. I hope to see you enjoying the huge honor to talk to you. Can't wait to read your papers. Thanks for talking to me. Likewise. I very much enjoyed it.


Thank you. Thanks for listening to this conversation with Matthew Johnson and thank you to our sponsors, Brave, a fast browser that feels like Chrome but has more privacy preserving features. Nero, the maker of functional sugar free gum and mints that I used to give my brain a quick caffeine boost for Stigmatic, the maker of delicious mushroom coffee and Kashyap, the app I use to send money to friends. Please check out these sponsors in the description to get a discount and to support this podcast.


If you enjoy this thing, subscribe on YouTube of view. Starting up a podcast, follow Spotify support on page own or connect with me on Twitter, Allex Friedman. And now let me leave you with some words from Terence McKenna. Nature loves courage. You make the commitment and nature will respond to that commitment by removing impossible obstacles. Dream the impossible dream and the world will not grind you under it will lift you up. This is the trick. This is what all these teachers and philosophers who really counted, who really touched the alchemical gold.


This is what they understood. This is the shamanic dance in the waterfall. This is how magic is done by hurling yourself into the abyss and discovering it's a featherbed. Thank you for listening and hope to see you next time.