Gabriel D. Roberts writes to share an interview he conducted with Dr. Rick Strassman, author of DMT: The Spirit Molecule, for VICE:
Dr. Rick Strassman, author of DMT: The Spirit Molecule, is responsible for groundbreaking research on dimethyltryptamine that reopened the legal doors for serious psychedelic study after decades of stagnation. Between 1990 and 1995 Dr. Strassman helped 60 patients enter the void and then documented their experiences at the University of New Mexico’s School of Medicine. Aside from his scientific observations, he has also suggested that DMT might have ties to stories of alien abduction, and that the release of DMT from the pineal gland into a fetus roughly seven weeks after conception “marks the entrance of the spirit.”
My third book, The Quest for Gnosis, was released last month and features interviews with many of the leading minds in psychedelic study, including Dr. Strassman. His work has been a profound influence on my own life and research, and I was privileged to speak with him about DMT, ecstatic states, alien encounters, religion, death, and the legalization of psychedelics. The below conversation is an excerpt from the book, which you can buy here.
VICE: You wrote the groundbreaking book DMT: The Spirit Molecule and were granted the first clinical study of psychedelics in 20 years. How did it feel to have that much riding on the research?
Dr. Rick Strassman: I felt a lot of responsibility, but at the same time I knew that the people aware of the research and monitoring it were relatively few. I wasn’t directly responsible to that many people, even though the long-term effects of my research made me feel a lot of responsibility to perform the study with the utmost rigor and care. Besides making certain to minimize the likelihood of adverse effects, the degree of direct observation and supervision was quite manageable. I recognized the importance of my work for the future of American psychedelic studies, and I wanted to make certain that it was performed in broad daylight. That way I felt the responsibility was shared among everyone involved in the process.
There is much debate about whether or not the psychedelic experience is entirely within the mind, or possibly reaching outside of it. Can you cite an example within your ongoing research that leads you to a conclusion one- ay or the other?
At this point, I don’t believe that it is possible to objectively determine how much of what we apprehend under the influence of psychedelic drugs is internally generated or externally perceived. It makes sense to me to suggest a spectrum of the phenomenon. There are times when our own personality predominates, rather than the awareness of something external to us. At other times, what we see is more external to us rather than self-generated. It’s impossible, though, to have a pure culture of one or the other. Without our personal life experience and biological makeup, we’d be unable to decipher what it is we are seeing.
For example, one of the DMT subjects, Marsha, saw a profoundly psychedelic vision of manikin-like 1890s figures on a merry-go-round. With some questioning, we decided the vision related as much to her body image in the context of her marriage as to something more metaphysical. Another volunteer in the study, Chris, entered into a blissful yellow-white light and merged with it, along with very few contents that he could associate with personal psychological themes.