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Fun with ancient psychoactives: blue lotus and African dream root

Adventures in Nutritional TherapyMy interest in the mind-bending end of self-experimentation started after reading about DMT, the active ingredient of the now-infamous ayahuasca brew*, in The Spirit Molecule. Sadly, DMT turned out to be a no-go. I wouldn’t know where to get it, and I don’t have the attention span to watch a stove for hours while rendering the plant material, or a decent exhaust fan to keep alarming chemical smells from wafting down the halls of my apartment building.

Luckily, there do exist legal, if less exciting, substances to dabble in. My first two choices, blue lotus and African dream root, were purchased from an online botanical supply store considered reputable and reliable by various commenters on erowid and reddit.

Blue lotus
The ancient Egyptians loved this stuff and memorialized it on papyrus and limestone for thousands of years, but it ain’t much to write home about. Either the Egyptians were seriously hard up for thrills, or the blue lotus recipe lost something in translation, because most current accounts describe nothing more than a gentle mellow.

I ordered a 20x dried extract, which turned out to be rich brown silt. I put the recommended dose in two muslin tea bags in a mug and steeped it in very hot water for 40 minutes. The tea bags didn’t contain the powder well, and the concoction tasted and felt like the bottom of a creek. Drinking it all in one go was impossible. It took me 30 minutes to finish it, after which I felt pretty much how you’d expect to feel after drinking a mug of mud.

The next night I doubled the dose and … nothing. It could be that I had too weak an extract or that blue lotus is best used as an adjunct to other psychoactives. Other users soak the dried flowers in wine for several days or weeks and drink that.

African dream root
This one is used as a launching pad for lucid dreaming, in which you remain aware and in control of your dreams. If you’re a sci-fi fan, you might recognize the root as the method by which two TV characters communicated with the dead. Or was it coma patients. Anyway, it made me laugh to discover it was a real thing. Most users say it took them a week of daily use before they saw results, but for me the African dream root worked right off the bat.

To prepare it, I cobbled together techniques from several different users. It didn’t foam the way it’s supposed to, so I just pulverized it and poured boiling water over it in a mug. I forgot to drink it in the morning, when it is less likely to cause insomnia, so I put it in the fridge, and then forgot about it again. When I eventually drank it a few mornings later, I found it very mild-tasting and faintly redolent of lipsticks from the sixties and seventies — whale oil, maybe.

When I dozed off that night, the advertised effects happened. The best way I can describe it: you become aware that you’re somewhere else, like you do when you wake up from minor surgery. One minute you’re looking at the doctor’s face and the next you’re looking at the ceiling of the recovery room. In my case, I found myself in a dark closet. I remained aware of my plans to attempt to lucidly dream and was a wee bit freaked out. A youngish woman in 1950s makeup and hairstyle was in there with me, but when I turned to face her to ask her why in heck we’re in a closet, she disappeared. At that point I woke up. The whole thing might have lasted two minutes, tops, but has the memory of a live experience, rather than a dream.

The rumor is that if you take African dream root every day for three months, its effects become permanent. I take that to mean that you will have lucid dreams unbidden whenever you sleep.
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* Not to be confused with the ayahuasca vine, which does not contain DMT, and is legal to own.

Illustration by MRhea.

It’s time to wrap this up

After 2 1/2 years of blogging I am ending my regular posting schedule. After September 30, 2013 I will only post sporadically, to document any earth-shattering results I elicit from my self experiments. I will continue to welcome comments and emails, however, and will respond ASAP.

The New World Outhouse requires that I cobble together several part-time jobs in order to feed myself, and I’ve been struggling with my already-modest publishing and social media schedule. Just keeping up with the back-end is a chore: I lost 90% of my traffic before I noticed that a vital WordPress plug-in had stopped working. And don’t even talk to me about $#%^@ Feedly.

Like a lot of health bloggers I have been constrained by worries about discrimination by potential employers who read this content. Not being able to say everything I need to is a real drag, especially since I have received so much helpful info from my readers. I just know that someone out there has a tip about coping with cannibalistic urges and parasitic twins that could change my life.

Eventually I hope to condense all the site’s content into e-book form and post it on Amazon for $.99. Thus will my media empire be founded and that Oprah chick knocked off her high horse.

Many thanks to fellow bloggers and biohackers Steph Strand and Seth Roberts for reaching out and letting me know that someone was actually out there reading. And a million thanks to everyone else who contacted me.

All the best to you.

ANT - Ciao!

And then there was the time vitamin B-complex drove me insane…

One of the first things you discover when you start investigating nutritional therapy is that vitamin B-complex formulations are badly designed. Never mind the dubious value of having most of the B vitamins in the same milligram amounts when no one can really say just what ratio they should ideally exist in. (Here’s a chart by Ronald Roth at Acu-cell.com illustrating the unbalancing effect that causes.) And never mind the fact that the majority of the complexes use forms of the vitamins that really don’t work well in people with stressed or overworked livers — cobalamin instead of methylcobalamin, folic acid instead of methylfolate, and pyridoxine instead of P5P (two types of vitamin B6). And what livers among us these days are not stressed and overworked?

The biggest problem with B-complex preparations is that to save on costs manufacturers seriously shortchange you on the more expensive biotin, vitamin B12, and folate. Typically only the US RDA amount is provided, which is pointless. 400 mcg of vitamin B12, only 3% of which is absorbed, will not do much for anyone.

If you rely on vitamin B-complex for a long period of time without taking additional B12, folate, and biotin supplements, you’ll eventually induce a deficiency of them. The extra, larger amounts of the other B vitamins, all of which work together and need each other to be processed, now have increased the need for that vitamin and you’re drawing on more of it than you were before you were taking the supplement. If you’re given a ton of one but too little of another, eventually those bigger doses will require too much of the lower doses.

I experienced this effect in a dramatic fashion when in an attempt to combat fatigue I decided to try 300 mg of vitamin B-complex a day, which is advocated in some circles as a fast way to get B vitamin levels up in situations where they are presumably very low — newly diagnosed celiacs for example, or recovering schizophrenics.

At the time, I was reading what someone had recommended as one of the best American detective novels ever, The Death of the Detective by Mark Smith. As it turned out, the book made the post-apocalyptic Children of Men look uplifting by comparison, and it didn’t even involve an apocalypse. As I read it, each menacing, creepy scene created stronger feelings of dread and anxiety. Paranoia carried over into my other activities — driving a car, walking around a store, etc. When I started shaking while reading one scene, it occurred to me that this probably wasn’t a normal reaction.

I figured the best culprit was the recent megadose experiment. I had taken extra vitamin B12 and biotin for a long time so I thought folic acid was probably the problem. I took 2 or 3 800 mcg methylfolate supplements and in about an hour was noticeably more relaxed.

I tossed the book without finishing it. Luckily for the author I couldn’t track him down. I was denied the satisfaction of sending him hate mail or hate tweets or some other social media hatefulness about his soul-sucking piece of crap.

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Illustration: Gloria Swanson in Sunset Blvd., Paramount Pictures 1950. Remix by MRhea.

Perfume therapy

I just finished reading Alyssa Harad’s Coming to My Senses, about her discovery of perfume, and was inspired to set forth my own approach toward arming oneself against the world with scent. I rank perfume up there with recorded music and books when it comes to tools for mental health. Approximately every four years I will forget to put perfume on in the morning and three hours later I will stop short and think, Oh-my-god-I’m-not-wearing-perfume-is-it-Alzheimer’s?

For those of you who were not convinced of the power of scent by my earlier post on the psychoactive properties of frankincense, allow me to address a few potential barriers to perfume appreciation.

  • It doesn’t have to be expensive. Decant services such as The Perfumed Court allow you to buy samples starting at about $3.00. Some perfume stores also offer samples — Harad’s book mentions Aedes de Venustus for one. Once you decide you like something, buy a bigger decant for longer-term use. I haven’t bought a full bottle in ages.

    The drugstore also has plenty of options, the most famous among perfumistas being Tocade. One of my favorites, now discontinued, was Burt’s Bees Baby Bee perfume — roses, grapefruit, lemon and beeswax. It was about $12. I have to say though that since the ones I wore until my 20s were reformulated by their manufacturers for profit margin reasons, I haven’t had the heart to revisit them, because …

  • Perfume is a time machine. It will take you back to
    1. the time you first wore it
    2. the way it made you feel when you first wore it
    3. and, in some freakish way that no scientist could ever explain, periods in history you never lived through and circumstances you never experienced, especially the great perfumes

  • Perfume is not silly. Ms. Harad points out that some women avoid perfume because of the negative stereotypes attached to the made-up, bejeweled, feminized woman. Well, okay, but I’ve never worn perfume for anyone but me. It’s a sensory experience. People have been indulging themselves that way for thousands of years, dudes included, especially in the Middle East. I am particularly in awe of the ancient Egyptians, who wore cones of scented wax animal fat on their heads at important functions (see illustration). The cones slowly melted over their hair. (Okay, maybe that’s not the best example for this bullet point.) Of course some of those cultures were scent-crazy because of bathing/sewage issues.
  • You gotta explore and experiment. I go through about 30 samples before I find one I know I’ll wear a lot.
  • It’s for men, too. Many US men’s colognes are appalling — there is a special place in hell for the person responsible for the smell blasting out of Abercrombie & Fitch stores — so you have to look harder for good ones, but they’re there. Plenty of women’s scents would actually work for men, including one of my favorites, Encre Noire. Plenty of women wear men’s scents, too. Such as moi, who just discovered that one of my favorites, Encre Noire, is marketed for men.
  • Perfume is often occasion-specific. Most of the perfumes I like I wear only during a specific time of day or season or mood or holiday. I would never wear Dans tes Bras in the winter. I only wear Shaal Nur at Christmas. I wear Bombay Bling the way I used to listen to George Thorogood – when I’m really having trouble waking up and facing the day.
  • You don’t actually have to wear it. You can find room scents, sheet sprays, and incense so far beyond drugstore/Spencer Gifts/health food store crap that you won’t believe it. You can also just buy perfume to sniff when your brain needs to go off in a different direction, or when you love a perfume but just can’t wear it.

    I’ve used about six perfumes this way. One was Lutece (1984), a very feminine, powdery, clinging scent that I knew I could never pull off, so I just kept it in a drawer and smelled it occasionally. Bandit (1944) and Blue Grass (1934/reformulated 1989) are two others I do that with now. Bandit is too brazen and Blue Grass is too sad to wear: it makes me feel like I’m remembering some earlier, genteel rural life in a lovely white house. And sometimes I spray the men’s cologne Monsieur Givenchy (1959) in a room, hoping Cary Grant will show up.

  • You don’t have to smell like everyone else. There are a gazillion perfumes to choose from out there. The only time I had to refrain from wearing a perfume I liked was when Obsession came out (1985). I loved it, but two weeks after I bought it I realized the entire world had it on and it was approaching the globally-reviled stage. Which came about a week later.

    But then again, two of my all-time favorites, that I would wear even now if they hadn’t been discontinued, were popular, mainstream perfumes I first smelled on other people – Love’s Musky Jasmine (1975?) and Charles of the Ritz (1977).

  • Perfume can be applied at quiet levels. It takes some experimenting, but it is perfectly possible to apply perfume so that only you smell it, which is especially important for those of us working in cubicle farms.
  • You don’t have to be an expert. I’ve been wearing perfume since junior high and I still can’t tell a carnation from an iris. Encre Noire (“black ink”) sure enough smells like fountain pen ink plus a wee bit of something else, but I could not for the life of me tell you what that something else is. I know I don’t like most amber, leather or vanilla scents, I know I love Orientals and frankincense perfumes, and I know the original dates of some of the greats, but that’s about it.
  • Perfume “note” descriptions are useless. Shalimar’s notes are lemon, bergamot, jasmine, May rose (?), iris, incense, opoponax (a type of myrrh), tonka bean and vanilla. Does that help you imagine it? Me neither. My perfume hobby got a new lease on life when I found people who could describe perfume in terms of the settings or people it reminded them of. Luca Turin was the first of these, then a bunch of bloggers, and then their commenters. The description “a stone cathedral on a winter morning in Russia,” for example, intrigued me enough to seek out Etro’s Messe de Minuit. It turned out I wasn’t quite into that one, but another blogger wrote about the whole Etro line of perfumes and I decided to try Shaal Nur, sort of a sister to Messe de Minuit. Et voila! A favorite discovered, for maybe $10 in sample costs. Like I said, you gotta explore.

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Image: Portrait of a lady, Tomb of Menna, Thebes, Mid-XVIII Dynasty (c. 1550 – 1292 BC). {{PD-art}}.

Chronic illness and “nice” people

I recently started thinking again about a phenomenon I first experienced at the nadir of my health woes 14 years ago, and several times since. I wondered briefly about it each time it happened, but was too beleaguered and distracted to dwell on it. To wit: on several occasions I developed noticeable symptoms over a short period of time that were visible to others. Twice I developed slurred speech, stammering, and word loss. For a while my memory was so bad I couldn’t repeat a telephone number back to you or remember articles I had edited two months before. I also once gained 21 pounds in six weeks (a 15% weight gain).

Not one person ever mentioned any of this to me. Not my closest friends, not family members, not medium-close friends or friends at work, not coworkers or bosses or mentors, and not doctors.

Is that not peculiar? It’s not like I had a small social group. I had several sets of friends and several groups of family members I visited, and I worked in busy offices where I interacted with dozens of people every day.

So, yeah, thanks for being understanding and all, except that whatever questions my behavior raised were asked behind my back, with no input from me. This is bad. I have no idea now if that behavior was a factor in employment offers or project assignments or social invitations or lack thereof.

Obviously some friends were going through their own shit or had distractions of their own, but still. Your support network, or whatever you call the group of people you think will tell you when you’re walking funny and have weird marks on the back of your neck after aliens abduct you and wipe your memory, should be tight enough that they don’t all fail you at once.

I always prided myself on my “nice” friends, but now I think they are not the people you want around when things go bad. For one thing, they might be your friends only because they’re too nice NOT to be your friend. They don’t cull their social contacts enough. Or because they want to be perceived as a nice person and don’t even think about what they actually want in a friend.

I did an inventory of all the friends I’ve had that I could trust to tell me something unflattering about myself without being mean-spirited. There have been 2.5. All were 1,500 miles away during the aforementioned episodes. Friend 1 would not hesitate to tell me if I was handling a situation gracelessly. As in, “You’re being an asshole.” I’m guessing whatever reticence she had was burned away after giving birth to five kids in seven years. Friend 2 gave me feedback that would’ve been helpful a lot earlier and that I’m still grateful for, as in, “People think you’re weird when you do that.” In turn I suggested it was time she considered an eyeshadow color other than sparkly turquoise. “This might be the beginning of a beautiful friendship,” she said. Friend 2.5 could be trusted to tell me something bad but only if it related to my physical appearance. As in, “That dress is not bohemian, it’s Dust Bowl.”

Friend 2 turned out to be on the lam from embezzlement charges. As for Friend 2.5, although she is a fairly respectable citizen now, in high school she removed all the PCs from the computer lab, loaded them into a pickup, and dumped them in a ravine. Make of that what you will.

Chronic illness and nice people adnuther.com

Seven things I’ve learned from chronic, undiagnosed illness

During the years I was figuring out the celiac-nutritional deficiencies-liver damage thang, I had a few revelations that probably otherwise wouldn’t have been visited unto me until later in life. Several of these were a result of aphasia episodes, wherein my speech became slow and halting and would occasionally just stop mid-sentence.

People listen to the pattern of your voice before they listen to what you say. When the aforementioned speech weirdness caused me to break off in mid-sentence, coworkers and friends would laugh as if I’d said something funny, even though I hadn’t and even though I clearly had not finished my sentence. Maybe they just thought I was making a half-assed attempt at comic timing. Several years later I discovered with a certain acquaintance that when I, like, ended my statements on a questioning “up” note?, she was pleasant and cheerful, but when I used a more professional speaking voice, with confident final notes, she would invariably contradict me.

Nice friends are not always good friends. For some people, “nice” means “let’s avoid all unpleasantness, shall we?” Others confuse their passivity with niceness. They won’t be the ones to tell you that you can’t seem to follow conversations anymore, or that you’re starting to smell weird.

Long-term insomnia is inconceivable to most people. Even when they want to believe you, they can’t. Both civilians and GPs will assume you’re misestimating the time you’re awake or that you’re doing something wrong. (Sleep experts are a lot better about this than they used to be, although their tools are still pretty useless.)

A huge section of American culture does not work as advertised and cannot be relied on to solve long-term problems. If nothing else, knowing how useless our healthcare system is mentally prepared me for when all those other big institutions broke. Or were revealed to be broken.

People like you more when you ask them questions. For introverts, asking questions about things that don’t genuinely interest them feels fake and forced, but extroverts understand that it’s all about demonstrating interest in the other person’s interest in the subject. You don’t have to give a hoot about the topic itself. The strategy has another advantage, as a well-liked coworker of mine pointed out: “When someone gets really boring I just ask them a question.”

Much of what you say is to reinforce an image you have of yourself. Another aphasia revelation, best expressed by a woman who wrote an account of her month-long vow of silence, which I have to paraphrase because I can’t find her article now. She discovered that almost all of what she would have said was not about sharing information or an experience, but creating a picture of herself for the person she was talking to. I did find another person’s vow-of-silence story here.

Not working because you feel like shit is inconceivable and even morally wrong to a lot of people. As long as you can still walk and remember your multiplication tables, you are expected to continue working, even if 80 percent of your energy goes into getting dressed in the morning. Presumably you are expected to wait until retirement to figure out your health problems. I guess a lot of this is due to fear and denial, since few people can afford not to work. No one wants to imagine that it could happen to them. Another reason is profound ignorance about the limits of what medicine can actually accomplish, leading to assumptions such as: any prescription drug is better than no drug; there’s a prescription drug for every malady that exists in the world; if you refuse to use prescription drugs then your illness is your own fault; and if doctors can’t find anything amiss with a person who continues to insist that something is wrong, said person has mental issues.