In today’s Solidarity Fridays episode, Joe and Kyle switch things up and take a break from news stories. Instead, they interview therapist, host of the Madness Radio podcast, author of Outside Mental Health: Voices and Visions of Madness, and previous psychiatric patient diagnosed with schizophrenia, Will Hall.
Hall says a lot that will challenge your ideas about the power of psychedelics and the progress of psychedelic medicine. From the idea of either/or thinking creating a legal/illegal paradigm, to the basic limitations of science, to the the near religious worship of neuroscience, to William James' idea of "medical materialism" and reducing the complexities of the human mind to simple biology, he points out the various flaws in psychedelic medicine and how psychedelic crusaders have ignored placebo results and focused on the power of a drug or the numbers behind a study over the power of therapy, the benefits of community and the mystery of consciousness and its differentiation from science.
“If you end war-on-drugs prohibition in a context of heavily corrupted science, pharmaceutical company corruption, people that don’t have access to basic healthcare, they don’t have the basic context to be able to make smart choices, and you combine that with the profit motive in neoliberalism, then you’re going to have to really be very careful about how you do it, or else you’re going to have some very negative consequences. And this is a problem with any legalization.”
“We haven’t really had enough of a nuanced conversation about the war on drugs issue, because again, there has been such a strong-- I want to call it zealotry- this is an incredibly dedicated group of people who have been doing this for 30, 40, 50 years to get psychedelics into the hands of as many people as possible because they took LSD, they saw God, it saved their marriage, it completely revolutionized their trauma history- they’re true believers. And they’ve been pushing and pushing and pushing, but unfortunately, that doesn’t make for good public policy or good science if you’re just on a crusade. And I think that’s the big part of the problem that we’re facing right now.”
“Consciousness is like gravity. Consciousness is actually intrinsic to reality. Everything has consciousness. The more complicated the part of reality is (like, the human brain is very complicated), the more rich and complex consciousness becomes, and you get this self-awareness kind of thing. But the idea that consciousness is somehow located in the physiology of the brain and therefore ‘we’re going to study the physiology of the brain to explain consciousness’ is completely a leap of logic that has driven neuroscience for the last 40, 50 years since the real takeoff, and it’s been driven by pharma profits.”
“You can create all kinds of things just through suggestion, just through expectation, just through placebo, and yet in the psychedelic science research, all that’s kind of put aside and they’re playing the same neuroscience game of thinking that we are pursuing and understanding of the biology of consciousness, which we’re not. And of course, it’s a gold rush.”
“We’re trying to describe this incredibly rich mysterious thing- human consciousness. Nobody even knows how to define it. The people who have been studying it for decades can’t even settle on a definition. You settle on a definition of gravity. You can settle on a definition of chemical reactions, because that’s the nature of that kind of science, but this is a field of science- psychology, which is so mysterious and so complicated, they can’t even agree on what it is that they’re studying. And now we’ve gone from this model that’s basically a steam engine model- there’s chemicals that are going through and they’re connecting and they’re flowing in different places. And that’s sort of antiquated, so now we have a computer model, which is about circuitry, networks, connectivity, pathways, and it’s just another cartoonish metaphor for something that we fundamentally don’t understand.”
“The fact that the marvel and the awe of what human consciousness is, what the human experience is, what the mystery is, that is so awakened for many people when we have a psychedelic experience- your mind is blown by how incredible, awesome, beautiful the mystery is, and then to take that and then go into graduate school and cut up mice and have this cartoonish, mechanistic version of what that consciousness is, seems to me like a real betrayal of what I think is the best of the psychedelic experience.
“Under capitalism, under for-profit healthcare system, under corporate-driven science, science has become a politicized and profit-driven racket. All of those researchers are playing a game of ‘How do we get press releases that get media hits and clicks that’s going to help our grant possibilities?” and it always comes with ‘Well, we have this promising new discovery- the default mode network is a promising new discovery. We need more research about this.’ And what we need to do is we need to really really rethink our entire orientation to science in a capitalist society.”
“I think that once MDMA becomes available and more widespread, we’re going to see the efficacy go down. It’s not going to help everybody. It’s going to be another thing that some people try and some people, it helps them, but it didn’t really quite do it and then they have to kind of go back and they do more and then they lose the magic of the MDMA and then we’re back on the treadmill. We went from antidepressants to MDMA, and then what’s the next drug? There’s no drug solution to these problems, folks. We have to change our society. ...Until we actually look at social changes, we’re not ever really going to solve these so-called mental health problems. But that’s not the kind of thing you want to talk about at a MAPS-sponsored conference, because it’s a buzzkill. It just bums everybody out. People want to have their careers, they want to have their focus, their advocacy, their crusade, their excitement, and their community of other people who are excited.”
“I’m not sure that psychedelics should even be in the realm of medicine or science because of the way in which our society has so limited and made narrow those endeavors- the idea that medicine is separate from spirituality or that science is about reproducible results when the whole universe is based on uniqueness and novelty and the unexpected and synchronicity, I think that trying to squeeze them into those frameworks is not going to work.”
Outsidementalhealth.com (info on his book, Outside Mental Health: Voices and Visions of Madness)
Mcgill.ca: The placebo effect and psychedelic drugs: tripping on nothing?