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My Psychedelic Explorations

The Healing Power and Transformational Potential of Psychoactive Substances

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Claudio Naranjo’s psychedelic autobiography with previously unpublished interviews and research papers

? Explores Dr. Naranjo’s pioneering work with MDMA, ayahuasca, cannabis, iboga, and psilocybin

? Shares his personal accounts of psychedelic sessions and experimentation, including his work with Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin and Leo Zeff

? Includes the author’s reflections on the spiritual aspects of psychedelics and his recommended techniques for controlled induction of altered states

In the time of the psychedelic pioneers, there were psychopharmacologists like Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin, psychonauts like Aldous Huxley, and psychiatrists like Humphrey Osmond. Claudio Naranjo was all three at once. He was the first to study the psychotherapeutic applications of ayahuasca, the first to publish on the effects of ibogaine, and a long-time collaborator with Sasha Shulgin in the research behind Shulgin’s famous books. A Fulbright scholar and Guggenheim fellow, he worked with Leo Zeff on LSD-assisted therapy and Fritz Perls on Gestalt therapy. He was a presenter at the 1967 University of California LSD Conference and, 47 years later, gave the inaugural speech at the First International Conference on Ayahuasca in 2014. Across his career, Dr. Naranjo gathered more clinical experience in individual and group psychedelic treatment than any other psychotherapist to date. In this book, his final work, Dr. Naranjo shares his psychedelic autobiography along with previously unpublished interviews, session accounts, and research papers on the therapeutic effects of psychedelics, including MDMA, ayahuasca, cannabis, iboga, and psilocybin.

The book includes Naranjo’s reflections on the spiritual aspects of psychedelics and the healing transformations they bring, his philosophical explorations of how psychedelics act as agents of deeper consciousness, and his recommended techniques for controlled induction of altered states using different visionary substances. Naranjo’s work shows that psychedelics have the strongest potential for transforming and healing people over all therapeutic methods currently in use.

From Chapter 3: Interpersonal Psychedelics
Research on Interpersonal Psychedelics


Although the spiritual states induced by psychedelics are transient, the therapeutic benefits are much more stable. Moreover, it is the therapeutic process--the cleansing of the psyche of dysfunctional impressions in childhood and the recovery of the capacity to love--that opens a person in a more stable way and brings him or her closer to the development of his or her spiritual potential. In this regard, I believe that, as I have termed them, “feeling enhancer” and “fantasy enhancer” psychedelics offer great possibilities, and I consider myself very fortunate that life offered me the opportunity to initiate the field of their therapeutic application many decades ago. Here I will offer an overview of what I have learned from these, which have been generally known as “empathogens,” but that I personally prefer to call “interpersonal psychedelics.”

On feeling enhancement and psychotherapy facilitation

In 1962 I was on my way to the Amazon where I was going to carry out my first psychedelic research project, when I met Sasha Shulgin, the most ingenious of the psychedelic chemists, who introduced me to the potential that existed in the research of the substituted phenylisopropylamines. At that time, I was interested in the concoction known as ayahuasca, the effects of which I came to interpret as an awakening of the reptilian brain and a sacralisation of the “inner animal.”

Although all psychedelics contribute to undoing the “ego”--the small mind that obstructs the Great Mind--it could be said that the effect of LSD-type psychedelics is most surprising when it comes to undoing the cognitive structure that constitutes the support of the ego and that they could be considered as “head drugs.” In contrast, harmaline alkaloids appeared to be “gut drugs”: catalysts that facilitate the flow of instinctive self-regulation, even on a physical level. With that background I embarked on the exploration of MDA, which turned out to be a psychotropic of a new species.

MDA: The Drug of Analysis

It was obvious from the beginning that this substituted amphetamine had plenty to do with the heart and not much with the guts or the head. Certainly, it could be considered a “drug of the heart,” and by calling it a “feeling enhancer,” I wished to imply that its main effects were felt in the emotional sphere, although such effects were obviously not those of a mere stimulant. One aspect of this enhancement seemed to be an amplification of emotional awareness, another, a greater willingness and ability to communicate feelings. That was not all however, and now I would say that the “emotional optimization” more characteristic of MDA and MDMA is not simply an attainment of love, but a serene detachment and gentleness, which in turn allows the possibility of transmuting suffering through self-knowledge.

Sasha Shulgin was the first to draw my attention to some observations in Gordon Alles’ lab notes about MDA. Alles, who discovered amphetamine, thought that MDA would be useful as a vasodilator and tested it on himself with a plethysmograph around one of his fingers to verify the hypothesis. After a while he found himself more talkative than usual, and at one point he saw a ring of yellowish smoke in the room, although no one was smoking. Did not all of this suggest a hallucinogenic property, especially given the fact that the structure of the MDA molecule is a kind of hybrid between amphetamine and mescaline?

I was in the right place at the right moment: an avid seeker who longed to discover more medicine for my soul, so I deduced that I had to explore the substance further. At that time, I was a psychiatrist who worked for the Centre for Medical Anthropology Studies at the School of Medicine of the University of Chile, which was willing to support me in this adventure. Since there were no drug-related scandals in Chile, I was in a position very similar to that of Stanislav Grof, who at that same time was able to research LSD in Czechoslovakia. Only, instead of concentrating on LSD, I researched other avenues. One of these was the field of phenylisopropylamines, another was the exploration of a South American shamanic concoction known as ayahuasca, and another was the main alkaloid of the African psychotropic plant iboga.

From the first trials carried out on myself and on some acquaintances, it became clear that MDA was something that, unlike LSD, caused an expansion of emotional awareness without interfering with the thought process. Moreover, its effect did not separate the subject from the ordinary world of objects and persons, but it seemed to be apt for dealing with “unresolved issues” of the interpersonal world. Looking back, I can say that I was very fortunate to come across MDA, for despite a certain toxicity that affected some people its effects were quite similar to the now better known MDMA or “ecstasy.”

The discovery of this new type of psychedelic was published in a brief report (co-authored with Shulgin and Sargent), which appeared in Medical Pharmacology, exp. 17: 359-364 (1967): “Evaluation of 3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine (MDA) as an Adjunct to Psychotherapy,” but by the time it appeared I was already involved in the exploration of MDA-supported psychotherapy.

Working with people at the University Clinic in Santiago, I found that the MDA patients immediately regressed to early childhood and relived old traumatic memories, especially of mistreatment and even incestuous rape. Many experiences of abuse are forgotten but can be remembered, and undoing childhood amnesia could also involve other types of memories. In an MDA session, for example, a middle-aged woman recalled that she was locked up in a room through the window of which she had witnessed the murder of her father at the hands of her mother’s lover. I could not prove that this incidence was true, but I believe it was, for the understanding of her life that resulted from that memory brought about a remarkable healing.

Claudio Naranjo, M.D. (1932-2019), was a well-known psychiatrist, philosopher, professor, and university researcher from Chile. He was a Fulbright scholar at Harvard, a Guggenheim fellow at Berkeley, a council member of the Education Policy Research Center at the Stanford Research Institute, and a professor at UC Santa Cruz, the California Institute of Integral Studies. He was a pioneer in the use of psychedelics for psychotherapy and was known for his long collaboration with Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin. The author of many articles, papers, and books, his legacy lives on through the Claudio Naranjo Foundation (Fundación Claudio Naranjo).

"Claudio Naranjo was a profound inspiration to me and to so many others. Claudio helped train MAPS' first therapist team for MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD, for our study in Spain that began in 2000. Claudio's talk was the highlight of the recent World Ayahuasca Conference. Despite his health challenges, in his final days he indicated an interest in being involved in MAPS' psychedelic reconciliation project focused on Israelis and Palestinians who are taking ayahuasca and sometimes MDMA together. We honor Claudio's memory by continuing to work to develop MDMA and other psychedelics into prescription medicines, and beyond."

– MAPS Founder Rick Doblin, Ph.D.

“A remarkable collection of Claudio Naranjo’s writings on psychedelics and their role in spirituality and psychotherapy--what he considers two sides of the same coin. Of special value are his plentiful case reports in which we see on display the humanity and wisdom of this wise and humane psychedelic guide and trainer. Naranjo’s unwavering commitment to the centrality of actual experience to personal growth provides a unique perspective on understanding and utilizing the psychedelic drug state. A timely and most valuable contribution to the field.”

– Rick Strassman, M.D., author of DMT: The Spirit Molecule

“Today’s psychedelic culture is a hotchpotch of conflicting and harmonious factors bubbling together in a multicolored cauldron of potential. With such a long history of seemingly miraculous successes and well-known epic controversies, it takes a scholar of epic proportions to guide us through the maelstrom. Claudio’s years--decades in fact--of frontline immersion in the multidisciplinary field of psychedelics has now produced the go-to text to navigate this fascinating space. This book is a cutting-edge examination of contemporary science with an essential focus on the story of humanity’s oldest philosophy. What better captain to steer us than the man who has been there since the beginning, always alert and vigilant to the emerging psychedelic tides and their place in our lives. Read this book; carry it with you on your journey. There can be no better map.”

– Ben Sessa, M.D., MRCPsych, psychiatrist, researcher, cofounder and cochair of Breaking Convention, a

“Imagine a life that brings together the shamanic and the scientific sides of the psychedelic renaissance, the spiritual and the therapeutic, North and South, East and West. Imagine a writer who describes, with clarity and grace, the ineffable nature of the altered state. Imagine a psychedelic pioneer who is not afraid to call out the hedonism, grandiosity, and foolishness that sometimes darken this ‘enlightened’ community. Imagine Claudio Naranjo.”

– Don Lattin, author of The Harvard Psychedelic Club and Changing Our Minds

“I first met Dr. Claudio Naranjo 50 years ago when we both studied at the Esalen Institute with Dr. Fritz Perls, the founder of Gestalt Therapy. Claudio was already a psychotherapy pioneer at that time. He has continued to lead us toward new and important information on healing, now including this magnum opus that contributes significantly to the present worldwide renaissance in psychedelic psychotherapy.”

– Dr. Richard Louis Miller, Ph.D., author of Psychedelic Medicine

“Claudio Naranjo is the most shaman of the scholars and the most learned of the shamans.”

– Luis Weinstein, photojournalist, author, and former president of the American Film Institute

“Dr. Claudio Naranjo, pioneer of consciousness, has written the fundamental work for the psychotherapist who wants to not only experience but understand the world of known meditation techniques.”

– Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi “Reb Zalman,” one of the founders of the Jewish Renewal m

“I knew Claudio for many years. He is someone who immersed himself in a great variety of teachings and practices in order to help others heal their pain and find the way to the development of consciousness.”

– Tarthang Tulku Rinpoche, Tibetan teacher

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