16 Mar #72. Dr. Julie Holland on How Transformational Medicine Can Help Our Collective Disconnection
The last year has spiked our collective levels of anxiety and depression. The pandemic has escalated our disconnection, with each other, with nature, and ourselves. Could transformational medicine be the answer?
WELCOME TO THE DARIN OLIEN SHOW
Dr. Julie Holland knows the power of psychedelic drugs.
Julie Holland, MD, is an American psychopharmacologist, psychiatrist, and best-selling author. With an impressive academic background, unparalleled experience running the Psychiatric Emergency Room at Bellevue Hospital, and her own personal stories, Dr. Holland has a perspective worth listening to. Her most recent book Good Chemistry: The Science of Connection, From Soul to Psychedelics goes deep into this unique take.
I have my own experiences with psychoactive substances, specifically Ayahuasca. So in this episode, Dr. Holland and I discuss this and possible reasons for why I experienced it the way I did. But mainly, she dives into the power of all psychedelic drugs, or transformational medicine as she prefers to call them.
I have to stress here, Julie, and I do not suggest that all our problems could be solved using these substances. We’re simply exploring the fact that more research needs to be done, and we need to discuss these topics more openly. Because Dr. Holland, like myself, believes that the collective psychological problems we face as a society all stem from disconnection. We’re disconnected from each other, from the world around us, and from ourselves. It’s only when we reestablish these connections that we can begin to heal. And if transformational medicines can help us do that, by all means, let’s explore that as much as we can.
ALSO IN THIS EPISODE:
- Dr. Julie’s impressive background
- Her experience working weekends at Bellevue
- “The Worried Well”
- Our collective disconnect
- My personal experiences with Ayahuasca
- The future of microdosing
- Why cannabis is medicine
- Psychological inflammation
- Ego Disintegration
Read Dr. Holland’s Book Good Chemistry: The Science of Connection, From Soul to Psychedelics
Follow Julie on Instagram @JulieHollandMD
Dr. Julie on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/Weekends.at.Bellevue
Darin: You are listening to the Darin Olien Show. I’m Darin. I spent the last 15 years exploring the planet looking for healthy foods, superfoods, environmental solutions, and I’ve had my mind blown along the way by the people, the far off places I have been, and the life-altering events that have changed my life forever. My goal is to help you dive deep into some of the issues of our modern-day life, society’s fatal conveniences. The things that we do that we’re indoctrinated into thinking we have to, even though those things are negatively affecting us, and in some cases, slowly destroying us and even killing us. Every week, I have honest conversations with people that inspire me. My hope is through their knowledge and unique perspectives they’ll inspire you too. Together, we’ll explore how you can make small tweaks in your life that amount to big changes for you, the people around you and the planet, so let’s do this. This is my show, the Darin Olien Show.
Darin: Welcome to the show, everybody. How’s it going? Hey, I’m just trying to change it up a little bit, and I sounded like 12 rounds of boxing, which I can do, by the way, if you want me to try that again, but I digress. So this is an incredible episode. This hit me really hard, this episode. In fact, the book that Dr. Julie Holland wrote, I consumed upside down and sideways. Her latest book called Good Chemistry, The Science of Connection From Soul to Psychedelics. So I just saw that book, started reading it, and it kind of recapitulated me back to the days when I did ayahuasca a few times, did psilocybin. This was 20 years ago, which I haven’t done anymore, but then it just got me thinking about all of the things and how powerful plant medicines are. And the cool thing about Dr. Julie is she has applied so much for background in psychiatry into the modern-day use of some of the most incredible plants in the world. So she did her fellowship at New York Academy of Medicine. And she was an Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at NYU School of Medicine from 1995 to 2012. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Temple University School of Medicine, and completed her psychiatric residency at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. She is a badass. She is really smart, but she also got this foot into the soul, the spirit, as the Nordics called Sala. She wrote another book called Ecstasy: The Complete Guide – A Comprehensive Look at the Risks and Benefits of MDMA. Another book called The Pot Book: A Complete Guide To Cannabis. She is the author of the Weekend at Bellevue. She wrote another incredible book called Moody Bitches: The Truth About the Drugs You’re Taking, the Sleep You’re Missing, the Sex You’re Not Having, and What’s Really Making You Crazy. That was published in 2015. I know you’re gonna run out and get that one because that sounds incredible. So she runs a private practice in Manhattan, past medical monitor for several clinical researchers, post-traumatic stress disorders, using MDMA to assist in psychotherapy. She’s one of the pioneers, one of the pioneers in using plant medicines for actual medicine based in clinical data. So she got her hand in many different areas of bringing about attention, information, and uses in a very positive way for psychedelics of all kinds. So I know that you’re gonna enjoy this. It’s just this incredible conversation. It gets a little personal because I have had my own personal traumas around psychedelics, which I’ll get into a little bit in this episode. One day, I’ll tell that full story. This was an incredible conversation, and I know you’re gonna love Julie Holland as much as I do. So please sit back, relax, see the colors, and enjoy this conversation with Dr. Julie Holland.
Darin: For everyone that doesn’t fully understand, I’d love for you to set the stage of your expertise. I mean, you’ve written, this is your fifth book, I believe. I can’t wait to actually dive into some of those other ones, but why don’t you kind of unpack a little bit about your career and your profession because then that really sets the tone for this discussion of the bridging that you created?
Dr. Julie: My name is Julie Holland. I am a psychiatrist. I’m a 55-year-old middle-aged perimenopausal woman. In terms of my bona fides, I went to the University of Pennsylvania back in the ’80s when somebody still could get into the University of Pennsylvania for undergrad. I was sort of a pre-med who was very interested in drugs and the brain, and I took every course in my major, which was called biological basis of behavior. It was a combination of like bio-psych or neuro-psych. And I had a sort of concentration within the biological basis of behavior that I was learning everything I could about psychopharmacology. So from my teenage years, I was very interested in how drugs interact with the brain and behavior. So I went to medical school at Temple in Philadelphia. And then I did my psychiatric residency at Mount Sinai in New York City. And then after my residency, I got the best job in the world, really great, sort of finishing school to learn as much as I could about psychiatry, and that was that I ran the psychiatric emergency room at Bellevue Hospital on the weekends for nine years. And I ended up, I did sort of keep notes while I was working because just crazy, amazing things were happening every weekend. And it was a very sort of psychedelic job. Like you had to kind of, I mean, I wrote a book called Weekends at Bellevue, about my time. And very early in the book, I say, you know, my job, my overnight shift was really a lot like an acid trip, and that I knew it was going to last about 12 to 15 hours, and I knew that I was going to come out the other side like completely changed. It’s like, psychologically, at least. I mean, you had to be very fluid in that job. But I saw a lot of people in extreme situations. I got a very good sense of psychosis. And even before Bellevue, I was doing research on schizophrenia. So I was always really interested in, you know, how sort of broken with reality people could get. But the Bellevue job was tremendous because there was a level of pathology there that I could never have imagined had existed. And it was a fascinating place to work, and it was also fun. The people there were kind of adrenaline junkies and there was a lot of laughs and really good time. So I wrote a book called Weekends at Bellevue after that. And then after that job, I had a private practice in New York City, which is sort of taking care of what we call in psychiatry, “the worried well,” which means you’re really not that sick, but you feel like you’re that sick. And so you know, a lot of antidepressants, a lot of anti-anxiety medicines, a lot of stimulants and ADD meds for people who wanted to be high performers. And it was out of those years of private practice that I ended up writing a book for women because I felt like women were being really over-medicated, over pathologized, overdiagnosed. There’s a lot of natural cyclicity and emotionality to women that end up being sort of pathologized and medicated away. So I wrote a book with a very tongue-in-cheek title of Moody Bitches. And the subtitle for Moody Bitches was The Truth About The Drugs You’re Taking and The Sleep You’re Missing And The Sex You’re Not Having, And What’s Really Making You Crazy. And the whole point of that last part of what’s making you feel so crazy, which was the end of Moody Bitches became the beginning of this current book, Good Chemistry. So the end of moody bitches is all about how we are disconnected from our bodies, we are disconnected from nature. You know, we’ve gotten to a place where we’re socially isolated. We’re online so much that we’re even disconnected from our own bodies. And so my theory of what’s making us feel really crazy was this disconnection that the disconnection is driving the pathology. So that’s where I picked up with Good Chemistry. Th intro to Good Chemistry, which is, as you’re saying, a unified theory of connection or oneness is getting at this idea that we are sort of designed to get off on unified theories that we’re designed to take tremendous pleasure from connection. And even more than that, it’s the key to our survival. As much as I had always been sold on this idea of fight or flight being the key to survival. And survival of the fittest means that you can attack or retreat, but the truth is, it has always been the case even since we were on the savanna and also now that the real key to our survival is not attacking or running away, but actually staying, cooperating, collaborating, communing, that the way we really survive and thrive is when we are social and communal. We’re social primates and humans are categorized as obligatorily gregarious, which means that we have to be friendly, we have to be social, or we will not survive. And there is this chemistry that comes with this feeling of connection, where you know you’re safe, and you know that the group will take care of you. And that good chemistry is sort of the thing we’re all looking for. And how I make my living sort of prescribing meds to people is to try to approximate the good chemistry that you would get if you were feeling really connected with your spouse, with your family, with your community, with nature, with your God, which I’m making air quotes right now around the microphone. But fundamentally, the first issue is just to connect with yourself and to feel connected to your true nature, to your higher power, your higher self, whatever you want to call it. But this alignment of thoughts and emotions and sort of a spirit or a soul, you know, what is your higher self, your greater calling when you are really in alignment, body, and soul, thoughts and emotion and body, thoughts, emotion, body, soul. When all those things are in alignment and connected, you don’t need antidepressants, you don’t need any anxiety meds, you don’t need sleeping pills in theory. I agree that there are some people who are just absolutely going to need medication, and there’s no way around it. But the theory of connection and the chemistry of connection, and it also has to do with opiates. And the beginning of the book, I tie in the opiate epidemic, the loneliness epidemic, that these things, it’s not a coincidence that the more lonely we get, the more we’re using opiates, because opiates, you know, we all have our own internal opiate system. And that is one of the ways that we feel safe and held and comforted. And it’s the way that our body can tell us that feeling connected feels good. That was a very long send-up and the answer to your question of who I am and what am I doing here.
Darin: No, that was perfect. And the interesting thing is, obviously, with your background, but then it makes a little more sense if you’ve had a fascination with chemistry at an early age of the brain. And then you went to medical school and you had this incredible journey. What was the point that you said, well, yeah, these drugs that I’m prescribing are providing a service for this individual, but then you started asking deeper questions. And you said, well, it’s filling the void because of this disconnection. What was that moment where you had that bridging thought that this disconnection and these drugs, and then what can be the healing force in that? What was that moment that created that? Or was it a kind of a build-up? Like, I’m curious as to how that happened?
Dr. Julie: I’ll tell you honestly, the first time I ever had this thought that a daily dose of medicine isn’t as good as finding a better way to be with yourself. Honestly, the first time I really had that thought was when I first started experiencing and learning about MDMA, which is better known as ecstasy or Molly. And I remember reading an early sort of review of MDMA, somebody who’d been taking antidepressants for a lifetime. And he was sort of questioning, you know, why am I taking these pills every day when I can take something that shows me how to be without the pills? And that was back in the ’80s, and that was really when psycho pharm was just getting started. But I did have a sense really early on from my own experiences and from other people’s experiences, and from everything I was learning in the ’80s and the ’90s, really early on that things like magic mushrooms or ecstasy or LSD or Ayahuasca that these things could lead to such powerful transformation in people and they could enable like really basic behavioral changes. I mean, the metaphor that I give a lot when I’m talking about the difference between psychedelics and antidepressants every day is you can sweep, sweep the dirt under the rug for years and years and years, but eventually, you end up with a very lumpy carpet. And psychedelics take the carpet outside and bash the hell out of it and vacuum the floor and put the carpet back down. You have a chance, I guess, to sort of reset things and do a little bit of rewiring and rejiggering. So for decades, way before it was cool, I was educating myself and educating other people about MDMA and mushrooms and LSD, and ayahuasca and even things like micro-dosing. Anyway, this idea that there are alternative treatments out there. This idea has been around for a very long time, and it is just slowly been gaining steam. But the first thing that was gaining steam all through the ’90s was that we were medicating everybody sort of willy nilly. And then after 911, forget it. Everybody’s sort of let go in 911, and it became okay, at least in New York, where I practiced. It became okay to take anti anxiety meds and sleeping pills because everybody was very uptight about the World Trade Center being attacked and what that meant. So in the mid-’90s, the FDA started allowing advertising of drugs and the dam broke then. You could be watching TV, and it would tell you about Zoloft or Paxil. And then 911 really took advantage of a lot of people being very anxious. And they ramped up the advertising for antidepressants. In truth, I had a private practice all through the ’90s and it’s just gotten easier and easier to prescribe for people. There’s no stigma anymore. When I first started, I had to explain, you know, you have a chemical imbalance, it doesn’t make you a bad person, you need these medicines, they’ll help you feel more balanced. And after the advertising and 911, I didn’t have to explain that anymore. Like everybody sort of understood that that was what was going on. But now the thinking is that it’s not that simple. That there may be some people who have “chemical imbalance,” but most of us, it’s really just a mismatch between our genes and the way we’re living, that we’re designed to be living a different way than we are. And a lot of our malaise is, as you know, is coming from these sort of pro-inflammatory behaviors. And isolation is a pro-inflammatory behavior. So as much as everyone wants to do anti-inflammatories, and they’re taking vitamin D and E, and eating anti-inflammatory diets, but then they’re socially isolated, and that is an absolute pro-inflammatory state.
Darin: Many of you who follow me know I’ve spent most of my life searching for the healthiest foods on the planet from the Amazon jungle to the Andes of Peru, to the Himalayas and Bhutan, to the deserts of Africa, and everything in between discovering hundreds of plants and herbs and superfoods like this is my passion. Things like sacha inch, an Incan treasure, wild [unintelligible 00:31:41] mushrooms, things like Maya nuts, another Aztec superfood, wild cocoa moringa, many adaptogenic herbs and on and on and on. If you look hard enough, there are a few unknown extraordinary foods around the world that people still don’t know about. And a few years ago, I came across my favorite superfood discovery of all time, barukas nuts. Why is that my favorite? Well, when I first tasted them, my eyes lit up. I was blown away. They’re so delicious with notes of popcorn and cocoa and chocolate with peanut butter, and with this amazing crunch, so the taste alone just absolutely blew me away. But after sending them to the lab, which I do, and getting all the tests, I realized they’re the healthiest nuts on the planet. No other nut even compares. They have an unusually high amount of fiber, which is critical for healthy digestion. We’re all getting way too low of fiber in our diet and it’s good for the healthy bacteria and microbiome. And they’re off the charts in super high antioxidants, and have few calories than any other nut. It’s jam-packed with micronutrients. And what they don’t have is just as important as what they do have because they’re found in the forest in the savanna what’s called the Cerrado biome of Brazil, not grown on a plantation or a farm. They’re untouched by industrial pesticides, larvicides, fertilizers. They’re truly a wild food. But they’re not just good for you, they’re really good for the planet. Most other nuts require millions of gallons of irrigated water, not to mention, using bees and shipping them across the United States and just horrible sustainable practices just to grow certain nuts annually, but Baruka trees require no artificial irrigation. At one time, the Cerrado’s forest were made up of millions of these trees. These trees are incredible. They’re nitrogen fixers. They give back to the other plants in the forest. Their grandfather of sacred trees, but most of them were chopped down to make way for cattle, soy, and corn production. When you’re down in Brazil, it can be absolutely shocking. And actually, I’ve cried several times with miles and miles of deforested land filled with soy farms. This beautiful Savanna filled with soy farms and cattle grazing. Our mission is to reverse that. And the long term goal is to plant 20 million new baruzeiro trees throughout the Cerrado. And if that wasn’t enough, we are also providing highly beneficial and fair jobs for thousands of indigenous people so they can stay on their land and they can thrive with this consistent income every year forging and working with Barukas. Barukas are truly good for you, good for the planet, and good for the world community. It’s a win all the way around. I really think you’ll love them, so I’m giving all of my listeners 15% off by going to barukas.com/darin. That’s B-A-R-U-K-A-S dot com backslash Darin, D-A-R-I-N and using the code “Darin” at the checkout. I know you will enjoy.
Darin: What does that mean for the normal person because I don’t know what proinflammatory is, but unpack that a little bit?
Dr. Julie: Well, you know, I talked about this in Good Chemistry quite a bit, but I introduced it in Moody Bitches. There is a chapter called inflammation is the key to everything because it is a very basic building block. So there’s a lot of illnesses, physical illnesses that have their basis in inflammation. Arthritis is a very easy example, right? Your joints are inflamed, and you have a lot of pain. Diabetes has a basis and inflammation in the pancreas. Cancer has a basis that chronic inflammation can lead to cancer. So you want to avoid inflammation, basically. And there are all these things that we do that we’re told to do that are healthy, and maybe nobody ever told you, but I will tell you. A lot of the things that people are bugging you to do is because they’re anti-inflammatory. So like yoga and meditation, these things are anti-inflammatory. And an anti-inflammatory diet is basically, you know, what I tell my patients is that you need to avoid white foods and try to eat nutrient-dense foods that are colorful as much as you can. You know, foods that are whole, an organ and recognizable that they have grown outside in the sunshine, like those are foods that are good for you. And then things that are primarily made out of flour and sugar are pro-inflammatory. They’re not part of an anti-inflammatory diet. And also, I’m a very big proponent of cannabis and cannabis-based medicines in all fields of medicine but also in psychiatry. And cannabis is a potent anti-inflammatory medicine. But it turns out that psychedelics are also anti-inflammatory, interestingly. But more than this being social is anti-inflammatory, being isolated as pro-inflammatory. So it’s good for your health to have these deep connections with family, with partners, with your community, or with your church, or to feel deeply connected to nature. You know, there’s this thing called forest bathing. I think the Japanese call it forest bathing, but the concept is basically that you are if you are out in nature, this is an anti-inflammatory state, and it will make you feel better or make you less depressed, less anxious, you will sleep better just being out in nature. I will say that, since COVID has hit and I have sort of had to retreat to my home and not be in the city in my office seeing patients, I have really benefited from being outside in the woods. We live near a lake and there’s a swamp and it’s really beautiful. And there’s a particular time of day when the sun is at the right angle, and the light is on the water, it’s really magical. And I feel connected to nature and I feel soothed by it.
Darin: You know, the one thing that was so great to hear in your book was the starting of the self because I feel like in learning and I’m kind of going to segue into the psychedelic realm but at the same time, it’s not about psychedelics, it’s about connection and connection to self. And which is another reason why I love this book, another reason why I’m enjoying this conversation because it’s the psychiatrist that is diving into the soul, which is, you know, Carl Jung, being an incredible advocate for not divorcing the soul and the spirit between and then shifting the psychology that we’ve now adopted just being the mind, devoid of the soul and the spirit. And you’re now coming right at it again in a great way in terms of the connection is this essence, this spirit, and how do we get back to that and kind of part of your Muse in the book is psychedelics are a powerful tool. And there’s a lot of different ways to use those tools, both in ceremony, both in many different– there’s a lot of menus these days, as well as there’s a way to be responsible in potential micro-dosing. So let’s unpack that a little bit in terms of what the significance. We talked about significance of how to take care of yourself in this sympathetic to parasympathetic, but the significance of learning about who we are and what we are I think is divorced largely in society, and we’re running around reacting to our monkey minds and we’re getting yanked around by whatever someone’s telling us or whatever. And it’s kind of like we’ve cut ourselves off and taken the bait of our modern world of cutting ourselves off with this incredible connected all-knowing part of ourselves if we’re willing to just shut up and go inside. So talk to me about that significance, about the essence and the soul.
Dr. Julie: Well, the way that I wrote Good Chemistry, the first chapter is about connecting with the self. And that’s where I talk about the soul. And then the second chapter is about connecting with a partner. And then the third chapter is about connecting with the family, and then community and the nature and then Cosmos or God or death, that kind of comes at the end. But the first thing, the most foundational part of connection is that you have to connect with yourself. And the number one thing there is just get in your body, be embodied. It’s so easy to sit on the couch and watch something or scroll, and you’re not even aware of your posture, you’re not even really inhabiting your body. Your thoughts are elsewhere. But this issue of soul, I think what’s important for me is that– I mean, one of the things that will make people feel less depressed and less anxious is to actually be in alignment with their soul, to really know what is foundationally important to you, and what brings you joy, what sparks joy, what resonates with you, what gives you meaning. Those are the things you need to be focusing on and the things you need to be doing. And if you feel your body, and you feel the disconnect, and you feel your feelings, that is sort of the first step to just being connected with the self and at peace. If your higher power or whatever is in alignment with your thoughts and your emotions and your actions, when all those things are in alignment, it is very powerful. It’s a place of power, and it’s also a place of peace. So that’s the beginning of the book is just, you know, you got to get this stuff before you go on. And it is this sort of cliche like you have to love yourself before you can love another person. And you really have to connect with yourself and understand yourself and be in alignment with yourself and your own sort of higher purpose before you can really be any good for anybody else.
Darin: Yeah, so what are some of your ideas about the best way to do that? And I know again, yeah.
Dr. Julie: Oh, well, there are lots of ways. I mean, look, first of all, if drugs scare you or you’re in a position either medically or legally or psychiatrically where you don’t have access to this, then I would say, just meditating, just sitting and breathing, and being aware of your thoughts and your feelings, that is already going to do more for you than a lot of what you’re doing. So meditation is something that you can do. And yoga and other really meditative exercises can be put in the category of meditation. Or maybe you just want to like dip your toe in the psychedelic pool, but you don’t want to go full-on swimming, and then I would say just cannabis. Just a little bit of cannabis or a higher dose of cannabis, the cannabis already really is a psychedelic, and that cannabis will help reveal yourself to you. It will help reveal your soul to you. And it will help you to feel embodied and to pay more attention to your thoughts and emotions. So I talked quite a bit in Good Chemistry about cannabis, not only about how it’s an anti-inflammatory medicine but about how it can really be used as a psychedelic to help you connect with yourself or to feel more connected to nature or the cosmos. But then there are things like MDMA, which by the way, this is not a legal drug. Right now it is a research drug. There are FDA sanctioned phase three trials going on where MDMA is being used in the context of ongoing therapy to treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. And it may be that in the next two or three years, this will be an FDA approved medication, but right now, it really is just a research medicine and an illegal recreational medicine, or I guess you would say recreational drug, which may be difficult to obtain and also maybe, tainted or sort of a counterfeit substance. So there are definitely inherent risks. But let’s say you happen to have a good quality of MDMA available to you. One of the reasons why I sort of like to start with MDMA with somebody is that it can really give them a lay of the land. You can get a bird’s eye view of your narrative, where you’ve been, where you’re going, where you got stuck. And it’s a very mild shift in consciousness, there’s no ego disintegration, for instance, which we can talk about because ego disintegration can be really terrifying. There’s really no ego disintegration with MDMA. If anything, your egos sort of fortified, you feel stronger and more capable of doing the deep sort of digging that you need to do in good psychotherapy.
Darin: Is there a little bit of a witness aspect to MDMA too? Is there a stepping back from the monkey mind a little bit?
Dr. Julie: The first time I ever took MDMA, the thing that I remember the most, the thing that was I was so impressed with more than anything the very first time I took it was my mind was silent, the monkey was asleep. And even just luxuriating in my thoughts ceasing and just being able to be in that– I think it’s like a monk or a meditator might spend years and years and years cultivating the sense of presence, and internal quiet. And so when that came over me, I was just like, whoa, it finally stopped, like my stupid tatatatatatata in my head was just done. That right there was worth the price of admission, really amazing to have that quiet, but it is qualitatively very different from mushrooms or LSD. And at higher doses of psilocybin mushrooms or LSD, you are going to have something called ego disintegration or ego dissolution. And why this happens is that there’s circuitry in the brain called the default mode network. And this network is really responsible for how am I doing? Who am I? How did I do yesterday? What am I doing tomorrow? What do I like? Who am I? And it’s this sort of self-centered, self-serving, solipsistic circuitry of I, me, mine, you know, what matters to me and who I am. And it’s like everything that Buddhists tell you to let go of is in that default mode circuitry. So people who have practiced meditation and are experienced meditators are able to quiet their default mode network, and high doses of psilocybin or LSD will sort of disrupt this default mode network, and so the sense of self really disintegrates, it’s just it dissolves. And that can be terrifying. And for what it’s worth, I do have a sense that people have a little bit of an easier time with mushrooms than they do with LSD. And there’s a couple of reasons for that, but one main reason is that LSD lasts twice as long if not longer. And sometimes you sort of gotten the message and you’d like to hang up the phone, but you can’t.
Darin: And certainly ayahuasca fits into that category.
Dr. Julie: And so ayahuasca definitely, also DMT is the active ingredient in ayahuasca, and that will also reliably quiet the default mode circuitry. And not only is the default mode network quietted, that you lose your sense of self but also, the brain is in sort of a more plastic state where you can learn new things, you can get rid of some old things, you can do a little bit of rewiring. And these hyperplastic states are something, it’s actually something that MDMA and ayahuasca and psilocybin and LSD have in common. In MDMA, there’s this great article by a woman researcher, [00:33:07] where she wrote about how MDMA puts the brain in a plastic state, similar to what it was at in adolescence. So there’s a particular time in puberty where if you learn stuff, it really sticks, it gets in there very deep. And if you think back to things that you did in seventh or eighth, ninth grade, like maybe you learned to play trumpet or ride skateboard or something, but things that you did then you could still do them now in your 50s. They’re in there deeply. So there’s a particular sort of hyperplastic part of adolescence. And MDMA, to some degree brings the brain back to that hyperplastic state and you’re especially sensitive to social cues, in the same way that you were sensitive to social cues when you were in middle school. So I told the story in Good Chemistry about this horrible social ostracism thing that happened to me in middle school, and it was great to be able to tie in, like, yes, people are sensitive to social cues around them. And speaking of [00:34:04] she’s one of the women researchers that I profiled for Good Chemistry, but I really made a point of finding the women in the psychedelic community who are doing this research because if you watch any documentary about psychedelics, you are going to see a bunch of white men talking about their research. And as much as I know these guys and love these guys, and I do, I’ve been in the psychedelic research community since the mid-’80s. And I love them dearly, but they’re not the only players. They’re the people who are sort of getting the coverage and the facetime. There are so many women behind the scenes and right next to these guys who just aren’t getting the screen time and aren’t getting the recognition and it was really important to me in Good Chemistry that we say their names.
Dr. Julie: I would just say, I’m glad that you did that, but we also need to do that without needing to say it but I am going to say we need to do this in all aspects. We need to bring that feminine quality and bridge those gaps because I mean, just look around at the world already.
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Darin: Let’s talk a little bit about the dissemination of the ego. I took ayahuasca several times and every experience is obviously unique to not only myself but also as individuals. But one thing is for sure, your ego doesn’t get to go. And it doesn’t have a free pass through that door.
Dr. Julie: Right. You’re gonna stay here and maybe I’ll come get you on the way out.
Darin: So that is the thing that is the controlling aspect of you and you think you’re this and you think you’re that and your identity is connected to it in a multitude of ways. You switch your identity based on the who you’re around, what you’re around, what you heard, all of that stuff. The delusion and the illusion of that is me. And that me is the false me. And it’s what we all think is us and we’ve defend it with our lives, we defend it with our power, we defend it with anything or our religion and all of that stuff. So it is so destructive that the power which is yes, you can meditate. Yes, you can do all these things. Yes, you can try to be– I’ve been practicing actually, I read this great book called The Untethered Soul, and I’ve been practicing just witnessing just the mind, and stepping back. It is very difficult to do, but at the same time, it’s very easy. It’s so weird when we’re caught in the ego. So kind of set the table a little bit on the importance of psychedelics, on the importance of everything from the mushrooms to the microdosing to the proper placement of this ego and this beautiful witness that we have behind everything that is consistent, that is connected, that doesn’t need to defend itself, kind of set that table. And I really want to step out of, because a lot of people don’t realize that these aren’t drugs for happy drug state that you’re in, you’re not partying with, well, maybe MDMA but you know.
Dr. Julie: Certainly with ayahuasca, typically, you’re not necessarily enjoying your experience. I think it’s true that if you look at ayahuasca or MDMA, I mean, those are very different in terms of how much you’re going to enjoy the experience, there’s no question, but you’re going to come away with both of them with deep learning and potentially, like serious behavioral change. One of these issues with this ego sort of solidity, something I’m very interested is this idea of cognitive flexibility versus cognitive rigidity. So what you’re talking about before is like, this is me, this is who I am, you know, this is my narrative. And one of the things I talked about in Good Chemistry is you identify, we identify so much with our beliefs that it’s not enough to say like, I believe in this kind of government or something. You’re like, I am a lefty, I am a liberal. And when somebody comes at me questioning my beliefs, it’s as if they are physically attacking me. And there are really interesting studies showing that the brain reacts as if you are being physically attacked when somebody questions your beliefs. But what happens with psychedelics is that you really do sort of put your beliefs aside, you put your sense of yourself aside, I mean, whether you want to or not, it gets shoved aside, let’s say. It’s not like you’re like, I don’t need this right now. It’s like, this is going to get ripped away from you. So when I think about cognitive rigidity, I think about certain psychiatric diagnoses like anorexia nervosa. This is when you can never be thin enough, and people will be like, you have to eat, you’re too thin. You’re like, no, I’m not, I need to be more thin. You’re rigid. Nobody could talk you out of your absolute belief that you need to be thinner. Or like if you’re addicted to something, and you have a belief that this thing is going to bring you relief, that if I take this drug, I’m going to feel this way. And if I take this drug, I’m gonna feel better. And even though things keep happening that are like are you sure you feel better? Are you sure this is really working for you? You have this belief, this rigid way of thinking this drug is good for me, not bad for me. So anorexia and addiction and obsessive-compulsive disorder, if I do the rituals in this way, then I will feel safe. There are so many things and even depression and anxiety where it’s because of a rigid mindset, and a rigid way of believing things and thinking things. And so to take a medicine that says screw your cognitive rigidity, you need cognitive flexibility. You’re gonna get cognitive flexibility from this experience, you’re gonna see that you were doing it one way but there are five other ways you could be doing it. And you’re gonna put away this rigid ego structure and this rigid rules and these rigid ways of being and thinking it and we’re just gonna shake it all up, and you’re gonna reconstruct it from the bottom up again. And that is why psychedelics are being used to treat depression and anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder and anorexia and addiction because you are putting cognitive flexibility into a system where there is rigidity. So these medicines, there are so many different ways for them. Somebody recently referred to them as like transformational medicines which I thought was pretty good name, it’s not psychedelics. It doesn’t have all that ’60s baggage. And somebody else was calling them plasticogens. Meaning that they make your brain more plastic, like plastic is flexible until it sets. If you warm it up, you can mold plastic in a different way and then it sets again. So, I kind of like plasticogens. I don’t think it’s gonna stick, doesn’t roll off the tongue trippingly. But transformational medicine is kind of cool. But they create these pivotal moments where your brain is plastic and you can make deep lasting change to your beliefs, to your perspectives, to your behavior. So these really are catalysts for change, like deep transformational change. And psychiatry, we have not ever had that. We have that you go to therapy once or twice a week for years and years or you take medicine every day for years and years. And it’s not that you do something once or twice and you don’t need treatment anymore. But when you look at the MDMA therapy data and you look at the psilocybin therapy data, they’re not having symptoms anymore once they’ve gone through the treatment. In other branches of medicine, you would say that they’re cured or they’re in remission but here, we just resay, I love this euphemism, they don’t make criteria for this study anymore, which means that they had 12 symptoms when they came in and that’s why we allowed them to be in the study. But at the end of the study, they only had one or two symptoms or zero and so they wouldn’t be allowed in the study. But other people could say that these people are markedly relieved of their symptoms. So most of the MDMA researches are in post-traumatic stress disorder, which means that people have been traumatized and they’re stuck, they can’t get pass through trauma. And they have these therapy sessions without MDMA and then with MDMA, and then after, the protocol is through which is either two or three sessions. They don’t have the PTSD symptoms anymore and they don’t go back on their meds. And these changes are persisting. The psilocybin studies and the MDMA studies, we definitely have data from 1 year. And for the MDMA study, we’re looking at 3 years, 4 years out. These recoveries persist. So they’re data like we’ve never seen before. You don’t see this with Zoloft or Paxil. You see a little bit of improvement and then nothing really changes, and you have to take the medicine every single day. So, it is a paradigm shift and a change in the way that we are going to be treating people.
Darin: Yeah, it’s a true transformational medicine. And the persistence of that is the whole thing. That’s the very, very exciting aspect because these conditions, PTSD for example, is just gripping people and killing hundreds of thousands of soldiers, etc. every year.
Dr. Julie: Yeah, the suicide rate is very high in soldiers, as well as should be. War is hell. It’s totally traumatic, and people come back and they can’t– It is again as questionable, aligning with your higher self. You did things over there that you didn’t want to do but had to do, and so there’s this disconnection with the higher self. And now what’s happening with frontline workers certainly, they’re being traumatized. I promise you that the doctors who are losing patients left and right. We’re not to losing patients, especially last spring where nobody really knew exactly what was going on or how to treat people. There was just this sense of inaptitude that people were dying all around you and there was nothing you could do. That’s obviously very traumatic for the nurses and doctors and everybody else who’s working at the hospitals and the ERs in this situation. And I would also argue that for some people who are really politically invested, this fall was pretty traumatizing and COVID is traumatizing and isolation is traumatizing and poverty is traumatizing and racial injustice is traumatizing, and what happened to George Floyd and everybody who watched that, that’s traumatizing. So we are going to have more and more people who are sort of identifying as somebody who has been traumatized or who has post-traumatic stress disorder.
Darin: And I would just unpack this a little bit but I don’t know if there is a little bit about it. So 20 years ago, I did ayahuasca. First drug I ever did. I never even smoked marihuana at that point.
Dr. Julie: That’s like baptism by fire. That’s a lot.
Darin: So there’s some knowing that I had and even my mind was like what are you doing? It was in Colorado. It was in the mountains, and I just knew. And I had an incredible experience. My intention was clear. I basically smiled the entire 7-8 hours and got confirmed of my infiniteness. Let’s just call it at that as this first experiment that I did. And so the next one, all of my friends saw this transformation in me and they said, we want to do that. So I went in like, well, let me just say this one thing. The molecule, the mother molecule immediately when it was setting in consciously said, glad you’re here, you never have to do this again. You don’t have to do this. It’s all right here. So I was like, okay, cool. But when I did it the second time, the third time and the fourth time, I didn’t have the same intention. I didn’t have the same clarity. That may have set me up, not sure, but when I did it, it was fine. I had an intensity, that ego was getting the shit kicked out of it and I learned a lot, of course. But when the process was over, days later, something was off in me. And I never publicly talked about this at all, and there is a lot of details that I’m gonna leave out, but I was disconnected. And anyone who knew me could look at me and go, you’re a freaking zombie. They didn’t have to be spiritually connected, they didn’t have to know anything about anything, they look at me and go, what is wrong with you? And for me, what was going on inside of me is I was receiving a lot of information. It wasn’t shutting off, and I didn’t know what to do about it, and I could barely function. And this went on, Julie, for over a month. I literally thought I would be at Bellevue in a straight jacket because I could barely function. It was almost like someone opened up all of this information and this reality was changing in front of me in a way that wasn’t solid anymore. And I had no idea how to get out of it. The only way, and I’ll just conclude here, and I would love to hear your thoughts on it, the only thing I knew deep inside because I wake up every day going, it’s still here. I don’t know what to do. I went back on this native American land where I did a lot of NEPs, a lot of sweat lodges, a lot of power was there for years, and I just went back there. And my instinct was go find Darin again. And so I’d reach back if I could be more of a proverbial reaching back going, what do I like about Darin. And I just sit there and sit there and sit for days and hours at a time. And then one day, 30 plus days later, I was back. And that was traumatic, to say the least. It was the scariest thing in my physical existence. And at that point, I have never done any psychedelics from that point on. So it scared the living shit out of me. Anyway, I would love to know your psychosis philosophy.
Dr. Julie: First of all, I mean, you bring up a couple of important points. I mean, one point, I think the most important thing is that these are incredibly powerful. They’re like power tools. And in a perfect world before you use a power tool, you have safety goggles on, you’ve read the safety manual, and you’re just very focused on using this in a safe way. So these are very powerful tools. And the most important thing that we can do, well, there are a lot of things you can do to minimize harm. But after the experience, the best thing that you can do is to integrate what happened. This is not a medical term, but a lot of shit goes down. And it needs to be sort of integrated and what’s very useful is to have somebody to help you integrate these experiences and work through what you’ve figured out or what you left behind. But I also think that there can be pharmacological things happening. I may take some heat for this, but I will say that in people who have bipolar disorder or who have a tendency toward manic episodes, I don’t think that ayahuasca is a great way to go. I think that in general, if you have a history of mania, you really want to stay away from psychedelics. I will even make a case that high-dose cannabis is not great mania and bipolar. It can be destabilizing. So I don’t know, if you have any kind of history of mania or any family history of anybody who is bipolar or anything like that–
Darin: Not that I’m aware of.
Dr. Julie: Because if you were taking any other medicines, but it sounds like you were not. Anyway, I’m glad that you sort of reconnected with yourself. I do think that people can have very intense experiences of ego disintegration or ego dissolution, and then be sort of left with what do I do now, how do I reassemble myself, and who am I? It may be that when that circuitry gets sort of dismantled and doesn’t come back online, the reason why they call it default mode network is because it’s what your brain does when it’s not doing anything else. It’s where it always sort of falls back to. If that gets blown apart, then where does your brain fall back to? I would hope that really good integration therapy, it can help you sort of rebuild yourself, but it’s good that you went back to that place. You didn’t take ayahuasca again, but you just went to a place where you were open to sort of reassembling what had been disassembled.
Darin: Yeah, and it reminded me a little bit, I mean, I studied with Toltec shaman who studied directly with Carlos Castaneda before he passed away. So this guy was ancient at the time I met him. And so we were doing a lot of– he was giving me other people to be, like completely in the world, like not myself. And it was completely like tweaking and to the point where reality starts really messing with you because it’s asking that proverbial question, being in someone else’s skin in a world. And so those things would start to bump up against some of the disintegrations, which I thought was brilliant because the Toltec shamans have this assemblage point that really– I forgot the terminology you use, but the more you believe who you are, the more locked in that is. And the more you understand that that isn’t you, the more mobile this assemblage point is potentially then being more free as a being having a body, or whatever you want to call it. Anyway, a lot of amazing rabbit holes to go down, but super stoked that I survived that experience.
Dr. Julie: And I’m glad that you survived also.
Darin: But this helped. This is kind of a little rehabilitation reading your book as well. So that playing on the side for me and realizing all of the other applications that are potentially extremely powerful for so many different conditions including myself. I started thinking about wow, doing a controlled micro-dose might be very beneficial for me. There’s something about that really resonated and nothing about this has been resonating for me in 20 years other than I know it’s a powerful medicine.
Dr. Julie: And you can microdose almost anything. You can microdose cannabis. You can microdose mushrooms, LSD. You can microdose ayahuasca. You can microdose ibogaine. I think there’s a lot there, and I think that we’re going to see over the next 5 or 10 years is that you’re going to see more medicines that are based on psychedelics or based on cannabis that are going to sort of push things like antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds a little bit off to the side.
Darin: Yes, let’s celebrate that. Let’s get that going as soon as possible please, especially now, the collateral damage from this year is so immense that I don’t even think that we’re even at the tip of what we’re going to kind of see unfolding with that. So we need more of the plant medicines, but Dr. Julie Holland, this has been so great. And again, I applaud you as a human, I applaud you as a profession, and I just applaud the work and the dedication and the books. And I’m grateful for more and more people knowing about what you’re doing and the bridging of the gaps that need to be bridged, so thank you very much.
Dr. Julie: Thank you for helping me get the word out. I really appreciate. It was a pleasure speaking with you, Darin. I really appreciate the opportunity to do that.
Darin: Awesome. Thank you.
Darin: That was a fantastic episode. What was the one thing that you got out of today’s conversation? If today’s episode struck a chord with you, and you want to dive a little deeper on a variety of topics, check out my live deep dives on darinolien.com/deepdive. More episodes are available on darinolien.com as well. Keep diving my friends, keep diving.
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