Apart from Joe Rogan, there are perhaps few people in the world who have brought as much attention to the extraordinary visions of the powerful psychedelic DMT (N,N-Dimethyltryptamine) as Dr Rick Strassman and Graham Hancock.
So it was a real pleasure to see the video below posted online, in which Graham Hancock interviews Rick Strassman about DMT, and how his thinking about it has evolved over the past three decades.
The discussion is almost an hour and a half long, so for convenience below the video I’ve noted some timecodes for various aspects of where the chat went, along with some worthy pull-quotes.
In his first public appearance for several years, Rick Strassman shares the background, performance, and interpretation of his 1990s groundbreaking research at the University of New Mexico. In this series of experiments—the first new American clinical research with psychedelic drugs in a generation—dozens of human volunteers received hundreds of doses of DMT, one of the most powerful psychedelics known to science. The story of his research project, published as DMT: The Spirit Molecule, raises intriguing questions about the mysteries of consciousness and the hidden nature of “reality.” Here, Rick discusses his own continually evolving understanding of the DMT phenomenon. Also discussed are Rick’s more recent works, DMT And the Soul of Prophecy, and his first novel, largely autobiographical in nature, entitled Joseph Levy Escapes Death.
0:00 – Introductions
2:45 – Rick Strassman gives his condensed life story coming to this point
5:30 – Strassman, on how he came to study DMT based on his interest in altered states:
Both psychedelics and Eastern meditation…seemed to be reliable techniques to alter consciousness. The descriptions of what occurred during certain meditations and during certain drug states resembled each other, and – being a chemistry buff – I was thinking there must be some common biological denominators in both states. And I was interested in investigating those similarities.
7:00 – Strassman: “When I was doing all these interviews for medical schools, usually the first question is “why do you want to be a doctor”. And I told them…and I was rejected by 19 of them. (laughs)”
10:14 – Strassman: “[I learned about DMT, and thought] if we gave DMT to people, and it mimicked the characteristics of a spontaneous mystical or religious or meditative state, that would strengthen the hypothesis that naturally occurring DMT which is made in the human body was responsible for those so-called non-drug states.”
11:00 – Strassman: “We had published a number of melatonin papers, I was established as a clinical researcher, and started working on the paperwork for doing the DMT study around 1988. It took two years, and we gave our first dose of DMT in November 1990.”
12:00 – Graham Hancock asks: “There must have been a powerful motive to do your research specifically with DMT, and I’m guessing that was a DMT experience you had?” Rick replies:
Well, there’s a saying – research is me-search… I was at a conference in California in 1986 and Terence McKenna was there, and we spoke afterwards and he said ‘well you’re talking about DMT, but do you know anything about DMT’. And I said no, but I’d like to learn. So I went into a small room with a number of friends, and Terence gave an introductory DMT rap, like “this is how you do it”. So that experience shook me to my ontological roots, as it were. There were these beings, which were surprising as hell, and they spoke in a sing-song voice and said “now do you see, now do you see” over and over again. And I came down…and we said our goodbyes, but the course had been set.
14:30 – Rick discusses issues in getting authorisation to do the study on a powerful psychedelic at the height of the drug war.
17:00 – Rick describes the clinical trials and the ‘imposing’ location:
Experimental chemotherapy for cancer patients took place there, so it was a pretty life and death grim scene. But you would think that injecting DMT into people on a hospital bed with little tubes sticking out of the walls would be the worst possible place to do DMT, but uniformly the volunteers said it was the best possible place to do DMT, because they were completely at our mercy, and completely taken care of at the same time…we had a couple of IVs in place, if there were any cardiac problems there was a response team – and the volunteers really wanted to feel like we had things covered.”
I prepared the volunteers by telling them three different things. 1. It’s very fast. 2. It’s over quickly. 3. You may think you’ve died, but don’t worry. [laughs]
20:15 – Discussion turns to the question of whether the DMT realm is another level of reality. Graham asks: “One of the things that I find most exciting about it is the questions it raises over the nature of reality…it intrigues me, like, here is a technology to communicate with another level of reality. Is that possibly what’s going on, have you contemplated that possibility?” Rick replies:
It was an astonishingly frequent account or report: that there are beings, they communicated, they had things to say, there was an exchange back and forth. [A volunteer also] made the analogy of a new technology – it was interesting, he came in for a number of different exposures to DMT, a week or month apart…He described it as dipping into that reality, in which a couple of weeks had elapsed from one contact to the next – so it was as if things had occurred in that parallel level of reality which were going on separately.
28:00 Comparisons of the DMT experience with the alien abduction experience.
Rick: “I was completely unprepared with the frequency that our volunteers reported [entity contact experiences]. And I was forced to start thinking about the [alien] abduction literature…I wasn’t interested in it at all (originally). Around one third-one half way through the study I met with John Mack. I started describing the experiences of our volunteers and John said ‘you’ve discovered something’.
32:30 – Comparison of the DMT experience with near-death experiences.
Rick: “You know, the obvious study, which I’m surprised has still not been done, is you find people that have had an NDE, and you give them DMT, and you say ‘how similar are they?’. A few people have emailed me and said ‘I had an NDE, I’ve done DMT, and they’re spitting images of each other’. But it’s got to be a more rigorous kind of design I think.”
37:30 – Rick discusses the system he created with neuroscientist Andrew Gallimore which could keep people in a DMT state for any length of time through continual infusion.
There is a group at Imperial College in London that’s been giving DMT and doing brain scans, and they’re working on actually implementing a continual infusion study, which will be unbelievably interesting. You know, one of the strong points of a study like that, is you could spend time in the DMT state, and you could explore it…and you could begin to characterise the nature and the role of the beings, because you would be able to spend an extended amount of time with them.
44:00 – Discussion moves on to his subsequent book DMT and the Soul of Prophecy. Rick talks at length about being excommunicated from his Buddhist group, and then his subsequent exploration of the Jewish religious literature.
1:04:15 – Graham interjects, asking if Rick thinks Jewish prophetic tradition might have been influenced by DMT: “I call to mind the work of Benny Shanon and his study of ayahuasca, The Antipodes of the Miind. I think he specifically suggests that Moses at the burning bush may have been under the influence of an ayahuasca analogue – which would be, if I recall correctly, Syrian Rue and Mimosa hostilis.”
Rick: “Well you know, the presence of DMT in the human body precludes the need to look for a source in the environment. It could be in plants, it might be in manna, but the human body contains DMT, and levels increase in certain conditions.”
1:07:15 – Rick: “Once I began to look at the Hebrew bible carefully, I began to wonder what the degree of overlap was between the DMT experience and the classic prophetic experience. So I started to compare the reports in the bible with the reports of my DMT volunteers, and there is extraordinarily close overlap. I mean, if you read chapter one of Ezekiel, there’s beings with wings with eyes on them, with eyes on their backs, he flies through space, he falls down, there’s a whooshing sound in the beginning, he’s standing next to water, he’s weak, he asks questions, he’s completely blown away, there’s a firmament of blue and ice, there’s flames, there’s spinning wheels, there’s spinning globes – it’s completely DMT-like.”
1:10:00 – Graham mentions that Rick has now also written a (somewhat autobiographical) fiction novel, Joseph Levy Escapes Death, and highly recommends it. Rick talks about his brushes with death in recent years, and how the novel came out of those experiences.