Jul 17 2012

Altered Statesman: An Interview With Psychedelic Explorer David Jay Brown




‘I think DNA is ultimately trying to create a world where the imagination is externalized, where the mind and the external world become synchronized as one, so that basically whatever we can imagine can become a reality. Literally.”


Consciousness: What is it? Are your thoughts and emotions nothing more than neural static? Will your physical death extinguish your awareness? Is your individual consciousness just one of innumerable facets of a universal consciousness?

In search of answers to questions like these, local writer/neuroscience researcher David Jay Brown has mind-melded with many of the world’s most prominent philosophers, visionaries, culture-shapers and snorkelers of the psyche, including Timothy Leary, Terence McKenna, Robert Anton Wilson, Noam Chomsky, Ram Dass, Albert Hofmann, Jack Kevorkian, George Carlin, Sasha Shulgin, Deepak Chopra, Alex Grey, Jerry Garcia, Stanislav Grof and John Lilly. He’s chronicled these meetings in his bestselling interview compendiums Conversations on the Edge of the Apocalypse, Mavericks of the Mind, Mavericks of Medicine and Voices from the Edge. Dubbed “the most compelling interviewer on the planet” by author Clifford Pickover, Brown has recently completed work on the book “The New Science of Psychedelics: At the Nexus of Culture, Consciousness, and Spirituality,” to be published by Inner Traditions in the spring of 2013.  In approximately two months, the web magazine Reality Sandwich will publish his new e-book “The Complete Guide to Psychedelic Drug Research.”

Brown  is also the author of the sci-fi books Brainchild and Virus: The Alien Strain. He frequently serves as guest editor of the tri-annual newsletter from the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), a Santa Cruz-based psychedelic research organization that recently published the second edition of Mavericks of the Mind (available at Bookshop Santa Cruz). He has written for periodicals such as Mondo 2000, Scientific American Mind, Wired, High Times, The Sun, Magical Blend and the Journal of Psychical Research. The diversity of his output is telling of his leave-no-stone-unturned approach to consciousness exploration: It’s a good bet he’s the only writer in history who’s contributed to both the Buddhist wisdom publication Tricycle and the porn magazine Hustler.

Brown’s studies of learning and memory at the University of Southern California in the early ’80s earned him a B.A. in psychology. Between 1985 and 1986, he did research on electrical brain stimulation at New York University, obtaining a master’s degree in psychobiology. His inquiries eventually led him into the realm of parapsychology: He’s the man behind the California-based research for biologist Rupert Sheldrake’s books Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home and The Sense of Being Stared At, both of which presented scientific studies of unexplained phenomena. Brown’s knowledge of such mysteries, as well as of technology, smart drugs, health, psychedelic research and sex-drug interaction, have landed him guest spots on shows like HBO’s Real Sex, Fox’s A Current Affair, PBS’s Nature, ViaCom’s The Montel Williams Show and the BBC and Discovery Channel’s Animal X.

DAMON ORION: Tell me about the electrical brain stimulation research you’ve done. 

DAVID JAY BROWN: When I was at New York University, I did research for years where I surgically implanted electrical stimulating probes into the lateral hypothalamus of rats, which is a pleasure center. I would watch rats press a bar that delivered an electric current into their brain center over and over and over again until they fell asleep from exhaustion. Then they would wake up, and there was food sitting next to them, water sitting next to them and a mate sitting next to them. They ignored all three and would continue to press that bar over and over again to get the reward stimulation over survival instincts.

The other area of research I was involved in was at University of Southern California, and it was the exact opposite of the research I did at NYU, where I was surgically implanting electrodes into the brain centers of mammals and stimulating them: In this case I was inserting cold probes, which are devices that actually freeze or inhibit a certain part of the brain temporarily, so you can see how the animal operates with that one part of the brain missing, and how they operate when that part of the brain comes back.

The anesthetic that we gave to the rabbits prior to surgery was a drug called ketamine. I took some of this ketamine home and experimented on myself with it. After injecting 50 milligrams of ketamine chloride into my right thigh muscle and turning the lights out, I suddenly “realized” that my professors and my fellow researchers and colleagues at USC were in reality extraterrestrials—that they were scientists who were there not to study rabbits; they were there to study me. I was the test subject, and they’d left this bottle of ketamine out for me to take. They were watching me right at this moment with a video camera. And suddenly I found myself in a cage with cold probes implanted in my brain and giant rabbits all around me. They were measuring me, and I was naked and helpless. Suddenly, I snapped back into my body. I did not continue very much longer in that program after experiencing what I was experiencing from the rabbit’s point of view. That’s what ketamine taught me: what the rabbit was experiencing from what I was doing.

DO: You often ask your interviewees what they think happens to consciousness after death. If you had to put money on what happens after death, what would you bet on?

DJB: I guess wherever you go after death, the money’s not going to matter anymore! [Laughs.] You know, I think about that question every day, as an exercise of the imagination, and I change my mind about it all the time. I used to debate with my friend Nina Graboi — whom I interviewed for my book Mavericks of the Mind, and who passed away about 10 years ago —a ll the time about what happens to consciousness after death. It was one of our favorite topics of conversation. In general, I took the position that after you die, your individuality leaves, and your sense of awareness merges with the higher consciousness, the oneness, the source that everything came from originally. And her position was, “Well, there is that, but then there are all these levels in between where individuality remains besides the body, and you go through [multiple] incarnations with that. For years we went back and forth with this. Nina referred to her body as a spacesuit, and she always said she was going to get a new spacesuit when she died; she would go from one spacesuit to another. Well, after Nina died, I was writing in my journal, and the TV was on in the background. I was thinking about what was going on in Nina’s mind when she was dying: “I’ll bet she was thinking, ‘Now I see: David Jay Brown was right! You do just merge with the one consciousness.’” As I’m sitting there in this kind of self-congratulatory way, I look at the television screen, and there on the TV screen is one word: SPACESUIT. There was this tingle up my spine. I stopped in my tracks; my jaw dropped open. It was the most profound sense of communication with somebody after they died that I’d ever experienced. That is the most compelling evidence I’ve experienced that consciousness not only continues [after death], but that some sense of individuality continues as well.

DO: What are your memories of your friend Timothy Leary?

DJB: Well, my fondest and most important memories of Tim, I think, are [of] while he was dying. The last year [of his life], he announced to the media that he was thrilled and ecstatic that he was dying. And for the last year, while he was dying from prostate cancer, there was continuous celebration, continuous parties, continuously people coming around his house to tell him how important his work was to them. There was such a feeling of festivity and celebration and Tim deliberately trying to be playful and have fun with this process. This really made a very deep impression on me, because I ask so many questions about death—it’s an important philosophical topic for me. And there have been so many people throughout history trying to die bravely or courageously or nobly, but before Tim, I don’t think anybody ever tried to say, “Let’s make dying fun!” [Laughs.] Tim really tried to party through the dying process, and I thought it was just a stroke of brilliance. I cried when he died; as much fun as it was, it was terribly sad the moment that he really left. But he just left us all with such a great message, I think.

DO: Tell me about your connection to Robert Anton Wilson.

DJB: Bob was not only one of my closest friends, but he was the person who actually inspired me to become a writer. It was at the age of 16 that I read Cosmic Trigger, and that was how I encountered Timothy Leary, John Lilly and a number of the other people I went on to interview. I went to a lecture that Bob gave here in Santa Cruz back in the late ’80s. At the end of the lecture, I went over to talk to him. I told him I was working on a book, and I asked him if he would possibly consider writing a blurb for the back cover. He kind of hemmed and hawed and looked not terribly enthusiastic, like I was the 15th person that day who asked him that, you know? [Laughs.] But he did tell me to have my publisher send him a copy of my book, and he would take a look at it. So you could only imagine my absolute delight when I discovered from my publisher that he ended up writing an 11-page introduction to my first book, Brainchild. It was through that that I became friends with him. He was a tremendous friend and mentor. When I had difficulty paying my rent early in my writing career, he actually sent me money to pay my rent! He was always there when I called him, giving me great advice. When an editor made some kind of change to one of my articles that I wasn’t happy with, [he said,] “Editors don’t like the way the soup tastes until they pee in it themselves.” [Laughs.]

DO: What was your experience as a guest on The Montel Williams Show?

DJB:  I was on Montel Williams’ show back in the early ’90s, during his first season. There was all this anti-drug hysteria, and I was on the show to talk about smart drugs: cognitive enhancers like hydergine, piracetam and deprenyl — different drugs that are commonly prescribed for senile dementia, but have been used by people to enhance their memory or improve their concentration. He didn’t seem to be very open to even discussing the research or hearing anything about it. He kept cutting us off, and he’d talk about how dangerous methamphetamine was, how this was sending the wrong message to people and how the whole idea of putting “smart” before “drugs” was wrong, and there was no smart way too use drugs. He would not even carefully consider what we were saying. He had his mind made up. And what I think was so interesting is that since he’s developed multiple sclerosis and has had to use medical marijuana to treat the symptoms of this disorder, he’s now become one of the leading spokespeople for the legalization of medical marijuana. What is it about illness that turns people around? People think that medical marijuana is a joke until they’re faced with an illness, or until a loved one is, and then they really understand the medical value that it has and what a horrible, horrible atrocity it is that it’s against the law.

DO:  Is there a primary goal of your work or a primary message you’re trying to get out?

DJB: It seemed to me since I was a child that our species is in ecological danger… destroying ourselves. Since I was a teenager, since my very first psychedelic experiences, I felt a very strong commitment to help elevate and expand consciousness on this planet through my work. I made a personal pact with what I felt was DNA or higher intelligence. I felt that if I aligned my personal mission with life’s overall mission, then I would always be supported throughout my life in what I was doing, and I would be working for a noble cause.

DO: And what is DNA trying to do?

DJB: I think DNA is ultimately trying to create a world where the imagination is externalized, where the mind and the external world become synchronized as one, so that basically whatever we can imagine can become a reality. Literally. And I think that everything throughout our entire evolution has been moving slowly toward that goal. In the past couple thousand years, it’s been very steady. And through nanotechnology, through artificial intelligence, through advanced robotics, I think we’re entering into an age where we’ll be able to control matter with our thoughts and actually be able to create anything that our minds can conceive of. We’re very quickly heading into a time where machines are going to be more intelligent than we are, and we’re going to most likely merge, I think, with these intelligent machines and develop capacities and abilities that we can barely imagine right now, such as the ability to self-transform. What we can do with computers—digital technology, the way we can morph things on a computer screen—is the beginning of understanding that that’s how reality itself is organized, that we can do that with physical reality through nanotechnology and artificial intelligence, that the digital nature of reality itself will allow us to externalize whatever we think. So I think that eventually reality will become like a computer graphic screen, and we’ll be able to create whatever we want. That sound right? [Laughs.]


Feb 06 2012

Smart Drugs & Nutrients In 1991 (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #5)


By 1991, smart drugs and nutrients were all over the media with articles appearing in the New York Times and Vanity Fair; segments on network news shows both local and national and pitchmen-and-women going on afternoon talk shows to tout their efficacy (and, of course, Pearson and Shaw had been semi-regulars on The Mike Douglas Show for years).  Mondo was running at least one article an issue dedicated to the what, where and how of it… with only the addition of St. Jude’s column, “Irresponsible Journalism,” using irony to sound a slight note of skepticism.

I was using 4 Piracetam a day, washed down with a Choline Cooler and 4 cups of coffee a day.  Clearly, I liked feeling awake and the Piracetam worked for that purpose — until, after a couple of years, it started having the opposite effect.  As to whether I accumulated any generalized intelligence increase, well…  recalling some of my decisions during those times, I doubt it.

In some of my interviews for the M2k History Project, I ask people if Virtual Reality and Smart Drugs let us down… or did we let them down.  One interesting response came from Jim English, a Mondo 2000 friend involved — then and now — in the vitamin and nutrient business: “I think that the us part that failed were that we are a nation of fads. And smart drugs and smart drinks were a big fad, and everyone wanted to go, ‘Oh, I had the smart drink. I had the… I had the Ginko a Go-Go with the such-and-such. I had the oxygen cocktail. I had this…’ And people embraced the stuff, and then I think as soon as it started to become a commercial product — you started to see stuff showing up on shelves, I think you saw a concomitant backlash, which was, ‘Well, it’s not really making me smarter. I can dance harder, but, you know, I’m just as exhausted the next day.’ I think the expectations kind of combined with the sense to  be the first to adopt something, and the first to reject something. That’s how you keep your credibility. You know? ‘Well, I’m beyond that.’

“The hipster crowd backed away. ‘I’m into smart drinks. Oh, now I’m into deprynil. Now I’m into heroin.’ You know, you need to keep moving the bar forward or you lose your credibility. And I think a lot of people that I worked with kind of did that.”

Despite the fact that Smart Drugs were a big thing, I was surprised — while checking out an old 1991 discussion in the Mondo conference on The Well — to discover dozens of participants (and most of them professional types not “hippies,” mind you) waxing enthusiastically about trying them out.

Presented below are just some brief entries from that much longer conversation about Smart Drugs and Nutrients— some of them chosen not so much because they are representative, but because they are kind of amusing.  Btw, the discussion below is uncorrected.  People were much less dickish back then about things like misspelled words, so don’t blame the contributors below if it bothers you.  Blame yourself.

mondo.old 15: Experiences with “Smart Drugs” and Nutrients

#0 of 633: Gary Wolf (gwolf) Wed 01 May 1991 (09:15 PM)

I am writing a magazine story on “smart drugs,” including Hydergine,Piracetam,Choline, Vasopressin, and various nutrients and amino acids.  Any experiences you would like to share for publication?

mondo.old 15: Experiences with “Smart Drugs” and Nutrients

#1 of 633: Gary Wolf (gwolf) Wed 01 May 1991 (09:26 PM)

Yesterday, I drank a packet of Dirk and Sandy’s *Focus* plus a packet of *Go For It*.  This translates into a big dose of choline and Phenylalanine, plus cofactors.  I felt a big lift and worked for many more hours than usual.

Today, I spoke with a nutritionist at UCSF who assured me that no scientific evidence exists linking amino acids to psychoactive effects.  I also read several scientific papers asserting that the effects of nootropics such as piracetam have not yet been conclusively demonstrated.  Am I experiencing a placebo effect?  Also, I recently went to a party where various smart drugs were served to a hip, young, club-hopping crowd.  I wonder if these mild forms of recreational pharmaceuticals will capture their interest.  Tonight, I drank a packet of Dirk and Sandy’s *Be Your Best*, which contains arginine, and then went to the gym and played two hours of basketball.  I didn’t notice much of an effect.  Perhaps a little extra perspiration.  I also have ten piracetam tablets hanging around and am waiting for an appropriate moment to take them. I understand that they should be followed up with regular doses.  Comments?

mondo.old 15: Experiences with “Smart Drugs” and Nutrients

#4 of 633: Gary Wolf (gwolf) Thu 02 May 1991 (10:07 AM)

My understanding is that Dirk and Sandy license their name to a variety of retail companies.  *Focus* appears to be identical to *Memory Fuel* and *Go For it* is similar to *Rise and Shine*  I have noticed no effects on my libido.  I have noticed an appetite suppressing effect.  I only at one small meal yesterday, which is highly unusual.  This morning I am drinking *Rise and Shine* and *Memory Fuel.*  The experiment continues…

mondo.old 15: Experiences with “Smart Drugs” and Nutrients

#5 of 633: Mondo 2000 (rusirius) Thu 02 May 1991 (12:12 PM)

Nootropil/Piracetam works works WORKS!!!  Order it from  InHome Health Services  Box 3112  2800 Delemont  Switzerland.

Tell the nutritionist over at UCSF that, unless your dead, EVERYTHING IS PSYCHOACTIVE!!!

mondo.old 15: Experiences with “Smart Drugs” and Nutrients

#8 of 633: Gary Wolf (gwolf) Fri 03 May 1991 (01:41 PM)

.. the story is for Rolling Stone.  I would still love to hear about any experiences with smart drugs.  I suspect that there are some dedicated users out there.  The scientific evidence I have read so far seems inconclusive.  Piracetam and Hydergine definately have some effect, but the exact mechanisms are unknown and the effects vary from person to person.  Some feel nothing, some are blown away.

mondo.old 15: Experiences with “Smart Drugs” and Nutrients

#13 of 633: Mondo 2000 (rusirius) Sat 04 May 1991 (11:29 PM)

The measurement for intelligence is slippery, memory less slippery but a little wavy nonetheless.  I know pyschoactivity when I experience it though.  Can’t testify to the long term effects of this stuff though.

Smart Drugs are about to get alot of media-this year’s “virtual reality”.  & I think that smart drugs will come closer to living up to the promise & the hype, particularly if people go for Piracetan.  Remember LSD.  Chemistry is a most awesome kind of technology…

mondo.old 15: Experiences with “Smart Drugs” and Nutrients

#14 of 633: Gary Wolf (gwolf) Sun 05 May 1991 (10:34 PM)

I just spent a day in Santa Cruz with John Morgenthaller, who very generously went through his files with me and pulled some of the papers cited in his book.

We picked up three college-age hitchhikers in Santa Cruz today.  All were clean cut students who used recreational drugs regularly– the war on drugs hasn’t done so good down there

I guess.  We asked if they would be interested in smart drugs.  All of them said they wouldn’t take them without a recommendation from a friend.  An anecdote, in other words.  It’s not scientific, but its how we decide.

I also did Vasopressin for the first time today.  It had a definate, but subtle, effect.  My dose was fairly small.  I suspect this is going to be one of the popular ones.

mondo.old 15: Experiences with “Smart Drugs” and Nutrient

#mondo.old 15: Experiences with “Smart Drugs” and Nutrients

#46 of 633: Gary Wolf (gwolf) Thu 06 Jun 1991 (10:47 AM)

Question: How does Vasopressin work.  I had the pleasure of four big squirts courtesy of R.U. and now I’m curious.  It was a very pleasant experience.  I know it’s a synthetic pituitary hormone, but why should that make me happy?

mondo.old 15: Experiences with “Smart Drugs” and Nutrients

#77 of 633: Flem (flem) Sun 13 Oct 1991 (06:57 PM)

I bought some Vasopressin from Interlab.  It works best for me when I am burnt out.  It doesn’t do anything if I’m already alert.  It burns my nostrils and smells like burnt matches.  I can’t wait to get more.

mondo.old 15: Experiences with “Smart Drugs” and Nutrients

#108 of 633: Judith Milhon (stjude) Wed 22 Jan 1992 (11:27 PM)

i keep asking myself, is dilanting making me more creative, or is it just my imagination? why are all you non-epileptics doing dilantin? i have my own ideas on this, but the literature is so VAGUE. anecdotes are sweet, but can anybody sum up their experiences in the abstract, so i can understand them?

I think that dilantin focusses my attention while maintaining the latitutde and depth of that attention, unlike most stimulants.

I think that dilantin gives me an emotional detachment from tasks and events. hoop-la: it’s not an anti-depressant, but an anti-neurotic.

Anybody have any ideas on this?

After much talk about the Placebo effect, I lashed out…

mondo.old 15: Experiences with “Smart Drugs” and Nutrients

#113 of 633: Mondo 2000 (rusirius) Tue 28 Jan 1992 (12:14 PM)

I’ll repeat myself again.  I’ve been taking drugs *seriously* for 25 years now and I know how to tell genuine psychoactive effects from wishful thinking.

See back when I bought that clump of rat shit in the park in Cambridge in ’68 we didn’t know from a placebo effect.  We called it “getting burned.”  I’m not a mark, I’m extremely skeptical and I find this no-nothing dismissiveness … well, exactly what it is.

mondo.old 15: Experiences with “Smart Drugs” and Nutrients

#114 of 633: Eugene Schoenfeld (genial) Tue 28 Jan 1992 (03:06 PM)

Ken with drugs like cocaine, LSD, amphetamines, DMT, even caffeine, the effects are so distinct that virtually all users note the effect. Among the so-called “smart” drugs, only vassopressin and the ephedrine(or other caffeine-like compounds) consistently produce notable effects, according to reports posted here on the Well(except for your reports).

I know you are aware that anecdotal reports are suspect because they don’t eliminate the placebo effect. That’s why scientifically valid studies are useful. Also, when one has a vested interest in a product, judgement is affected. Another reason for impartial trials.

So, what is the evidence that “smart” drugs have an effect, apart from the stimulants? You FEEL that they do? Come on, Ken, you’re smarter than that.

mondo.old 15: Experiences with “Smart Drugs” and Nutrients

#283 of 633: magdalen (mdln) Thu 23 Jul 1992 (10:43 PM)

I think I fall into the ‘smart drugs, dumb users’ category, myself… my experimentation has been quite limited and very random.  The interesting thing about this approach is that it’s much like a double-blind test.  I ws taking L-Phenyalanine without much of an idea of what it was supposed to DO; it just seemed like some generic smart drug to try.

I turned into a raving, seething, foaming at the mouth bitch for about five days before I connected my moods to the L-pheny.  I haven’t taken it since, though I have found that L-Cysteine is a pleasing accompaniment to long evenings of hardcore partying (like I said, I’m a dumb user), and it’s nice to take some the morning after as well with my first cup of coffee.

mondo.old 15: Experiences with “Smart Drugs” and Nutrients

# 285 of 633: Mondo 2000 (rusirius) Fri 24 Jul 1992 (10:53 AM)

I *like* raving, seething, foaming  at the mouth bitches.


This being Mondo, the talk turns naturally to LSD


mondo.old 15: Experiences with “Smart Drugs” and Nutrients

# 423 of 633: Mondo 2000 (rusirius) Tue 01 Dec 1992 (02:02 AM)

A friend of mine took 1/4 hit ie 25 mics a day for awhile and found it useful.  After about a month though everything started to seem too… um *significant* and he stopped.

mondo.old 15: Experiences with “Smart Drugs” and Nutrients

#437 of 633: magdalen (mdln)  Fri 04 Dec 1992 (01:08 PM)

I used LSD as a study aid through my last two years of high school, and found it to be quite effective and, much more importantly, entertaining in that role.  I’d do 1/4 to 2/3 blotter hits as a ‘pick-me-up’ and then wander off to English class, or say write a six-page essay on _Heart of Darkness_ on a full hit.  Admittedly, this was public high school and I probably could’ve passed the courses by turning in fingerpaintings, but I found LSD to be most compatible with Humanities work.

I’ve also been known to use the sub-tripping acid technique in theatre rehearsals, both as an actor and as a director, with absolutely wonderful results.

Problems only arose when I’d try this with a batch I hadn’t yet sampled.  I remember taking the tiniest sliver of a hit to get me through an all-night pasteup session when I was editor of my school paper.  Around midnight, the editor starts fully tripping!  Yikes!  The staff was staring at me as I spent fifteen minutes absorbed in playing with a roll of Zip-o-Line…

thanks to Gary Wolf and Eugene Schoenfeld for permission to use their words and to two other friends for permission to use their words as well.