LSD, Spirituality and the Creative Process by Marlene Dobkins de Rios and Oscar Janiger. Park Street Press, Rochester, VT. 2003.
In 1952, when I was doing graduate work in psychology at the University of California, I was intrigued by the idea of LSD. As far as I knew then, it was used only in Europe, and psychiatrists were beginning to use it for research into the workings of the psyche, in particular to help them understand the hallucinations of their patients. I did a paper on the literature to date, but then left the subject. It struck me as having fascinating potential, but at that time I turned my attention to my new baby, much more fascinating.
Twenty years later, when I worked for Community Mental Health, I found many young people coming into the crisis unit around their Saturn return at 29-30, unable to function, and with a history of LSD use.
Ive felt that it was a potent drug, to use with care, with guidance, and in a comfortable, safe setting. That path never opened to me, but along the way Ive known many people who have used it, with no apparent ill effects. The general report I hear is that it heightens creativity, but that people prefer to use it sparingly because it throws reality for a loop. And there is always the danger of a bad trip.
This is a landmark book. It is based on the extensive research of psychiatrist Oscar Janiger, added to the work of medical anthropologist Marlene Dobkin de Rios.
Dr. Janiger had nearly 1000 subjects, whom he studied for eight years, from 1954-1962, when the U.S. government stopped his work. He invited volunteers, and had a cross-section of people from all walks of life. He did have more artists, though, so many that he had to do a special study on artists. He used a regular home for the drug experiences, a studio for the artists, and had present a monitor besides himself. Under these conditions, few of the subjects reported negative experiences, although their inner and outer realities changed drastically, and personal boundaries dissolved.
Dr. Janiger also followed up his patients. At a six-year evaluation, he found that many reported lasting benefits in changing relationships to themselves and others, and an increased interest in social reform, political and international affairs, and universal concepts and religion. The artists responded most positively to all of the follow-up questions.
Only 45 people comprised the 40-year report group. All, with one exception, described their overall LSD experiences positively. About one-third reported "persisting beneficial changes," and several saw study participation as spiritual or transformative.
Janiger himself gave his report, "Ive opened the door to some other extension of my mind. Or my sensory equipment or perceptual apparatus. Whatever you want to call it. That gave me access to a kind of world that was vastly enlarged, vastly expanded. And my senses were most acute. My mental capacity of thinking led me to think in terms of breaking away from the familiar, what I called obligatory reality, where I had to be a certain way. It was the first time I clearly saw the influence of society and culture on my development. In other words, I saw how I was literally molded into the person that I was, by being told subtly what to see, what to think, what to feel. And the culture did that subtly. And it started with No and Yes and No and No and No. And I broke out of that completely."
There were many lifetime changes, in every aspect of life, reported. The researchers concluded that holistic learning occurred among the volunteers.
It was amazing how clear were the memories, and intense were the emotional involvements of the volunteers 40 years after the experiences.
There is a long chapter on LSD and art, with examples and personal stories. Most of the artists felt that it was another tool to help them to tap into their creativity. In my personal observations, I long ago noticed this creative enhancement of LSD.
There is another long chapter on LSD and spirituality. Dr. Janiger made an effort to avoid any religious promptings in his study. Nevertheless, 24% of his volunteers reported a spiritual or mystical encounter.
This discussion on spirituality is expanded by Dr. Dobkin de Rios to include the experiences of indigenous peoples, particularly in regard to psychedelic plants.
This is a long discussion, and, in sum, shows the benefits of psychedelics used in ritual situations. Dr. Janigers setting was not ritual, but nevertheless his volunteers experienced similar effects.
In people with spiritual proclivities, LSD did open doors of perception for Dr. Janigers volunteers. These are documented in the book with personal statements.
This book is a very informed, reasoned discussion of the use of LSD. It balances the myths and prejudices which are drifting around about LSD, with a plethora of well-documented experiences, many of which sound like many historical religious experiences.
Dr. Dobkin de Rios adds universality to the studys results by her own work with indigenous people in the Amazon. She demonstrates particularly how the mindset of the user, and the setting in which a psychedelic is used, are vital in the effects experienced.
I found this book extremely interesting, and it was a joy to read about the creative experience. It is also quite concise, and gives a wide overview of a complex subject in relatively few words.