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July 25, 2022

Search for the Spirit Molecule - A Clinical Study of DMT Experiences w/ Rick Strassman

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Can DMT produce inherently spiritual experiences? This week we profile the work of Dr. Rick Strassman, whose seminal study on the effects of DMT set the stage for contemporary clinical psychedelic research.

Rick Strassman is an author, psychiatrist, and researcher for whom an interest in chemistry, psychology, and altered states fostered a passion to reduce suffering by finding the link between neurochemistry and spiritual experience.

In this episode, we talk with Rick about the early psychedelic experiences that inspired him to explore the function of these substances, and DMT in particular, in an effort to heal the world. We also discuss the limitations he faced pursuing these ends in an academic context, and how a dissatisfaction with what his study concluded about the link between DMT and spiritual experience led him back to his Jewish roots.

“I dropped acid and watched the sun go down, and I had this flash - I’m going to do psychedelic research. I’m going to cure humanity through a combination of drugs, meditation and Freud.” - Dr Rick Strassman

DMT - The Spirit Molecule

  • DMT as a facilitator of mystical experience.
  • Rachel rephrases Rick’s concept of DMT as a microscope or telescope in perceiving different levels of reality.
  • Aaron discusses how spiritual practices like yoga, meditation, and energy work allow individuals to access deeper insight in altered states.
  • How self perception influences the content of psychedelic, near death, and death experiences

Rick Strassman - Researcher and Spiritual Seeker

  • Rick describes how being raised in an alcoholic family led him to introspection and psychological inquiry.
  • Rick retells his first cannabis experience in college and how it got him interested in understanding the chemical underpinnings of psychedelic experiences.
  • Rick shares how the intersection of his psychedelic experiences and descriptions of mystical states in Buddhist and Hindu scriptures led him on the search for a spirit molecule.

Psychedelics and Psychological Health

  • Rick recalls accessing altered states as a child through music.
  • Rick’s experience with psychotherapy and psychedelics and how that influenced his clinical work.
  • Rick’s desire to pursue psychedelic research as a way to reduce suffering and increase happiness and how that conflicted with his academic trajectory

The Search for the Spirit Molecule

  • Through research in melatonin, Rick discovers the pineal gland and DMT as a potential chemical medium for mystical experience.
  • Rick travels to a psychedelic conference at Esalen and experiences DMT firsthand.
  • Rick & Terrence McKenna create the scaffolding of the DMT study.
  • Rick concludes that DMT is psychedelic, not inherently or pharmacologically spiritual.

The Biology of Spiritual Experience

  • Rick’s search for a model that explained the DMT experience and how this led him back to his Jewish roots.
  • Rick explains neuro-theology as the bottom up model where the brain gives the impression of having a divine experience.
  • Rick coins theo-neurology as the top down model where the brain is designed to allow divine communication to occur.

Books by Rick Strassman


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Rick StrassmanProfile Photo

Rick Strassman

Author / Psychiatrist / Research Consultant

Rick Strassman was born and raised in southern California, attended Pomona College and Stanford University, where he majored in biology. He attended medical school at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University in New York City, trained in general psychiatry at UC Davis in Sacramento, and took a clinical psychopharmacology research fellowship at UC San Diego. His melatonin research at the University of New Mexico in the 1980s established its first known role in humans, and his DMT and psilocybin research in the 1990s began the American renaissance of clinical psychedelic drug research. He is the author of the best-selling DMT: The Spirit Molecule (and co-producer of the same-named documentary), DMT and the Soul of Prophecy, Joseph Levy Escapes Death, and The Psychedelic Handbook. Dr. Strassman is Adjunct Associate Professor Psychiatry at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine and lives in western New Mexico where he writes, consults, and mentors.