Listening for the Logos:
a study of reports of audible voices at high doses of psilocybin
Horace Beach, Ph.D.
Kaiser Permanente Medical Center
Department of Psychiatry
Chemical Dependency Recovery Program
E-mail: [email protected]
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There are reports that psilocybin mushrooms can engender a dialogue between the one who ingests them and a voice of unknown origin. The objective of the present study was to search for such reports, to look for differences between those who reported having heard a voice with psilocybin use and those who had not, and to characterize the voice. An anonymous questionnaire was distributed among the members of several organizations resulting in a sample of 128 participants. The phenomenon of a perceived voice during psilocybin mushroom use was reported in better than a third of participants.
Overall, the results of this study suggest that what made the difference between hearing a voice or not with psilocybin was more about what people did, than who they were. Can it be said that there are boundaries to the human psyche? Psilocybin voice experiences force us to confront our notions of a personal self and a universal Self.
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There are a number of verbal and literary reports that psilocybin (or "psilocybian") mushrooms speak to human beings - that is, they can engender or catalyze an auditory dialogue between the one who ingests them and a voice of unknown origin. T. McKenna terms this "interiorized linguistic phenomenon" an experience of the Logos. The Logos is to be understood as a sort of intermediary between what one might consider to be God, the Truth, or the "Suchness" of reality, and human beings. While it is possible to experience directly the Absolute, or noumenon of phenomena, or the Nondual, much of recorded historic experience of what has come to be known as divine inspiration or revelation comes through one of the various manifestations or intermediaries of the Absolute in the form of gods, spirits, angels, or ancestors. The daimon of Socrates is a good case in point; for example, Angeles states that in Plato's Symposium "the daimon communicates to the gods the prayers of humans and reveals to humans the commands of the gods." At times these intermediaries of the Absolute appear to humans, but they also reportedly can be experienced as disembodied voices.
While it can be argued that the voice, or voices, may ultimately be "some previously hidden and suddenly autonomous part[s] of one's own psyche" (T. McKenna, 1991b), such discussion can lead one into the philosophical abyss of what is ultimately meant by "one's own psyche" and the concept of self and other. Nonetheless, the voices many times present themselves as quite alien.
Persinger and his colleagues at Laurentian University are looking at "Other," "ego-alien intrusions," or a "sensed presence" phenomena from a neurophysiological perspective. In the search for brain correlates to the experience of "presences," their studies have focused primarily on the deep temporal lobe structures of the brain, the amygdala and hippocampus, which Persinger characterizes as the most electrically unstable structures in the human brain. There are three major points to be gleaned from Persinger's work relevant to the auditory voice phenomena reported by individuals taking high doses of psilocybin. First, the numerous reports studied by Persinger that involve an ego-alien experience or a sensed presence are similar to reports of the otherness or alienness of the experience of the Logos. Second, that the temporal lobes are implicated in Persinger's correlational studies is highly suggestive, as the role of the temporal lobes in normal and so-called hallucinatory audition is well known. Third, Persinger's focus on melatonin is interesting because melatonin production in the pineal gland is accomplished through the conversion of serotonin by the enzyme HIOMT. Thus, any compound that affects the serotonergic system (as psychedelics do), and is reported to elicit a sense of an alien other with auditory voice phenomena, must be explored with an eye toward Persinger's findings. Psilocybin fits the bill on both points. However, while the investigation of neurochemical correlates is a vital piece in the understanding of Logos-like phenomena, it is not true that by describing the neurochemical correlates of any mental activity one has found its explanation. Perhaps the relationship between the brain and its neurochemical correlates to the experience of mind should best be thought of as an interface with, or receiver of, mind (Sheldrake, 1989). Wilber views the brain as an exterior aspect or manifestation of the mind and consciousness. In any case, trying to understand the mental effects of the psilocybin experience solely in terms of physio-chemical factors entirely misses other levels of comprehension.
Potency and Dosage
Due to species variation, psilocybin mushrooms differ in potency. For example, concentrations of psilocybin in Psilocybe cubensis is about 2 mg/gm, whereas the quite potent Psilocybe semilanceata averages around 12.8 mg/gm in fresh specimens. Potency can also vary between strains of the same species, or even between various mushroom "flushings," or fruitings of the same mycelial organism (mushrooms are the sexual organs, so to speak, of the underground living web organism known as a mycelium). One therefore has to estimate average amounts and percentage concentrations when dealing with mushroom psilocybin and psilocin. Fortunately, there are some general agreements. Most sources cite psilocybin's entheogenic or psychedelic effects in humans as occurring between 5 and 50 milligrams, with the highest reported human dose at 120 milligrams and the "maximum safe dose" around 150 milligrams (Ott, 1993). A consensus of opinion favors a "high" dose of psilocybin to be at least 12 milligrams, or five or more dried grams of well-preserved Psilocybe cubensis mushrooms for a 154-160 pound person. There is some discussion, however, concerning whether mushrooms containing psilocybin differ in their effects from pure synthetic psilocybin, aside from the effects of the synthetic generally lasting a shorter time. In any case, it was understood by the researcher that the amount of psilocybin and psilocin varies between mushroom species, making sheer comparisons of number or weight crude at best, and it was hoped that the species-based psilocybin/psilocin content variation would be randomly distributed throughout the study's sample and therefore not a source of bias.
T. McKenna conducted a survey that was highly influential in the development of this study, in that its results suggested that the audible voice phenomenon was dosage-related. He has also stated that for some individuals, as much as 9.5 grams of dried mushrooms are required to elicit a voice, and also that other conditions and techniques may be necessary to hear a voice. Though there are a number of different types of voice experiences, the common thread running through them all is the imparting of information to the listener. This is the crucial importance of voices. In traditional usage, the mushroom voices give healing information.....