LSD, Birth, Trauma and REM Sleep: The Biological Roles of Hallucinogens.
By Bruce McConnell, PhD
It’s a bit late in the day to communicate a notion about the biological role of hallucinogens based on LSD experiences that happened some thirty years ago. Along with the demonization of hallucinogens by the media in the '60s, '70s and '80s, there was the lack of published research that would provide a convincing sense of depth and refinement for a hypothesis that might be hard to sell at the time. Thanks to the Internet and to this last three decade’s progress in hallucinogen biology, a notion of the role of hallucinogens in birth, born three decades ago in an over-stimulated mind, can now be offered with attention to published results that would convey some gravitas to the effort.
It’s curious that others dedicated to clinical or laboratory studies have not considered hallucinogens in the context of human parturition, or so it seems. In retrospect, there were clues. Perhaps some hallucinogen workers did, but had no time to put aside demanding projects with their paucity of grant money, disappearing sources of legal hallucinogens and two decades of hysteria banning clinical studies on this most promising of drugs. However there’s a much better reason why the notion would be missed by clinical and laboratory workers or by others. It is unlikely in the extreme that they would have had the opportunity for such an exceptional initial LSD experience originating from an accident of birth involving an obstetric procedure abandoned in the 1960s, together with the manic curiosity of a trained biochemist.
This curiosity brought about a sea change in my research during the last three years of my professorship, from the study of DNA proton lifetimes by NMR to that of brain receptors. In a short time, I found Dr. Aghajanian’s 1968 paper showing that LSD shuts off the activity of raphe neurons and soon after, I learned the origin of my first LSD effects from Dr. Stanislav Grof as we talked after his lecture at my university. For some weeks I resisted his assertion that it was a birth memory, because I was dourly resistant to both the idea and the practitioners in “rebirthing”, popular at the time. Eventually, there seemed to be no choice but to accept the birth memory tale of Dr. Grof, who, after all, was famous for his Prague accounts of thousands of patients treated with LSD. I could see (and hopefully you, the reader will) that the connection between my LSD sensations and those of an infant born by the Twilight sleep method was unmistakable. I came to “feel it in my bones” that this first LSD session was not only retrieval of a Twilight birth memory, but originated somewhere within the brainstem/cerebellum in response to Aghajanian’s LSD raphe inhibition. Simply put, a memory lodged in a secret crypt at birth was released 45 years later into my conscious awareness by the LSD inhibition of certain raphe nuclei, a process shown to dis-inhibit the reticular formation of the brainstem. I was “sure” this was the process that unblocked the channels of impulse flow from the memory site into conscious awareness. I was also aware of the delusory potential of this idea, enthralled as I was with the writings of Aubrey, Loren Eiseley and others on the mystique of biology, as well as the books on LSD kept under lock and key in the lower bowels of the university library. Some of these profane readings warned against falling in love with any idea after LSD exposure.
Undaunted, like a mercifully uninformed graduate student, I threw myself into periods of 30 consecutive 12 to 16 hour days of testing the hallucinogen-birth possibility. I restrained myself from applying for a NIH grant until I could publish something, because an earlier unsuccessful NIH grant attempt on another project was rewarded with a publication written verbatim by no less than one of my grant reviewers! Scientists live in an unforgiving academic world of publications and I didn't pursue punishment. Money from a grant application to a local obstetric hospital was not forthcoming (only MDs get money there), but I was given placenta to look for hallucinogen secretion at birth. This was not the best approach, since the hallucinogens I did indeed find in placental extracts would not necessarily be secreted or be operative in the fetal brain. Placenta, already known to harbor a hallucinogen receptor, might be their only target. Regardless, placenta is a good source of mother’s blood in labor and I chose this route as a quick publication for safety in grant applications. The better choice might have been to measure the rise of the hallucinogen in maternal blood during labor from a statistically sound cohort of mothers (however, see 1.12 Testing Hypotheses). This would take too long and would require loss of control to MD co-authors. At this time the abrupt onset of chronic fatigue syndrome put a stop to my research and my faculty position. I retired with my data unpublished and the placental hallucinogen unidentified. Understandably, the several hypotheses that emerged from an incomplete study might be suspect, were it not for the clarity and simplicity of the LSD experiences qualifying as unequivocal scientific results.
As to publication venues for this monograph, Machiavelli’s complaint comes to mind, “If you’re not ‘in’ with the rulers of Florence, not even the dogs will bark at you”. Of course, publishing houses and psychedelic organizations must be wary of loose crackpots on a daily basis. Also, this monograph would not pass peer review as a scientific paper, because 1) the author has no credentials in this area, 2) is no longer affiliated with a university, 3) it’s outside his previous field, 4) the experimental dosages are vague, 5) there’s no scientific confirmation that the drug was really LSD. Nevertheless, real results form the basis of the interpretation. The authenticity of the street blotter LSD was verified by the very same effects produced by three other known hallucinogens, whose source and chemical verification were made.
The hallucinogen effects to be described here are exceptional, appearing in a small fraction of users born by the same bizarre birthing method that was popular between 1910 and 1970. Called "dammerschlag" by its German inventors and "Twilight Sleep" in the USA, it involved injections of morphine and scopolamine to obliterate the mother's (cerebral) memory of the labor, doing the same for the fetus, who nevertheless, like the mother, did indeed store the memory in another part of the brain: The sub-cerebral realm below the hypothalamus, likely within a deep nucleus of the cerebellum. It can be asserted with a certainty, despite Heisenberg, that all those born this way in this six decade period have no cerebral memory of their birth, but harbor a hidden subcortical memory that influences throughout life, can be erased and reveals that flashbacks are natural signs of autonomic attempts at healing these engrams each night during REM sleep. It will be shown that long-term damage was inflicted on these Twilight newborns through an interruption of normal sequences of hormone secretion during birth. The formal journal submissions for two papers are being installed and edited in the companion website, biosublime.net.