Posts Tagged ‘hallucination’

Did the CIA spike a bakery in France with hallucinogens?

// August 27th, 2010 // 6 Comments » // Drugs, Poisons, Sex and Reproduction, The Realm of Bizzare, Unethics

On August 15, 1951 a small town in southern France called Pont-Saint-Esprit briefly entered the twilight zone. Hundreds of people reported acute psychotic episodes and physical symptoms such as nausea. They experienced traumatic hallucinations, and 50 of those affected were put in asylums. Five died. The event was later traced back to pain maudit – cursed bread.

In 2009 American journalist Hank Albarelli cited evidence that it was actually caused by CIA experiments into LSD. His book A Terrible Mistakesuggests the mass hallucinations experienced that day was a government funded field experiment into the newly found drug.

There would be potential for LSD to be used as chemical warfare – sprayed onto an army it would turn soldiers into… well… I don’t know but with guns involved I think it would be bad. I’m not sure if his conclusion is correct, but his article makes a compelling argument.

I have to say, conspiracy theories really do it for me. I think they’re great. Nothing like a little paranoia to keep you on your toes. There are, however, other opinions on what caused the Pont-Saint-Esprit madness.

One explanation is ergotism. Ergot is a group of fungi (most prominently Claviceps purpurea) which grow on rye, wheat and related grain-producing when-I-grow-up-I-want-to-be-bread plants. The fungus produces a neat little cocktail of alkaloid drugs which cause spasms, diarrhea, nausea and hallucinations – similar to those experienced at Pont-Saint-Esprit that fateful day.

In fact, the psychosis could have been caused by ergot or LSD, both have similar symptoms. LSD was first derived from the ergot alkaloid ergotamine. Controlled doses of ergot poisons have been used to treat migraine headaches and control bleeding after childbirth. Accidental, and dangerous, ingestion of ergot was known as Saint Anthony’s Fire (not to be confused with Saint Elmo’s Fire) for the monks of Saint Anthony who were really good at treating it. Ergotism was also blamed for Agent Scully’s hallucinations in the episode Never Again, where she gets a badass tattoo with some red ink that could have been coloured with ergot.

Greek myth time! In Ancient Greece annual initiation ceremonies were held for the cult of Persephone and Demeter. Demeter was the goddess of grain, farming and plenty, a bit of an Earth mother goddess with rich wheat coloured hair and a flowing dress. She guaranteed a good harvest. She had a daughter called Persephone, who loved the flowers. One day when Persephone was looking at some flowers in a field, Hades the god of the underworld noticed her, opened up the ground and abducted her. When Demeter noticed her daughter was gone, she was stricken with grief and refused to bring the harvest.

Persephone was trapped in the underworld for months on end. Desperate for her hand in marriage, Hades would offer her food, but Persephone know not to eat the food of the dead or she would never be able to leave. However one day Hades offered her a pomegranate, her favourite dish, and she ate six seeds.

Up in the mortal world, the land was dying. People were starving, having never experienced such famine. No matter how they prayed to the goddess she would not bring the harvest. Seeing the despair of the people, Zeus the king of the gods went down to his brother Hades and asked if he could bring Persephone back to her mother. Awkward conversation ensued.

Hades finally agreed, but oh noes! Persephone had eaten the food of the dead! The six pomegranate seeds meant that she had to spend six months of the year in the underworld as Hades wife. The other six months she would live with Demeter her mother. That’s why we have the seasons – autumn and winter when Demeter mourns, spring and summer when Demeter is reunited with her daughter.

Anyhoo, to be initiated into the Demeter and Persephone cult was called the Eleusinian Mysteries, some mysteries including this myth with added details. I think some of the mysteries included the use of pomegranate as a contraceptive (the link between fertility and death, perhaps.) You also had to fast during the initiation, and afterwards you would drink a barley drink called Kykeon and great revelations would be revealed.

Kykeon, made of barley, quite possibly tainted with ergot. Revelation or hallucination, you tell me.

Science of Inception – sedatives, dissociatives and dreaming

// August 1st, 2010 // 11 Comments » // Drugs, Science in the Movies

inception movieInception is a movie which grabs you by the throat and won’t let you go. Having seen it, I can’t stop thinking about it and I just have to write something down. For those who haven’t seen it, I will keep this vague enough to avoid spoilers.

Dreaming is, well, weird. We don’t really know why or how it happens, though we have plenty of theories. I’ve had dreams so real that afterward I think they happened in life. It makes you think, if we can dream or imagine something that looks real, how real is reality? Could it all be a chemical hallucination, reality merely a response to stimuli that triggers a release of endogenous drugs? What makes reality more real than a dream?

If you really start thinking about it, nothing seems real. So let’s not think about it right now.

Instead let’s talk about sedatives – drugs which relax the body and the mind. Examples include alcohol, kava, valium, and barbiturates which are sometimes used as general anaesthetic (we made one at Uni once – sleepiest class ever!) Sedatives can be used to treat insomnia, and come with the danger of addiction.

So sedatives can put you to sleep, but what about dreams? The few times I’ve had general anaesthetic I haven’t had any dreams at all, and I’ve never noticed different dreams after a big night of drinking rum or sharing kava on the islands.

houseI’ve been racking my brains trying to think of a drug that enhances dreams, and I think I’ve found one. Ketamine, the horse tranquiliser known on the streets as Special K. They had it once in House – the episode “No Reason” starts with House getting shot and given ketamine as anaesthetic. The rest of the episode he hallucinates wildly and finally decides everything is a dream and kills a patient to prove it – then it flashes back to the start as House is rushed to the emergency room and says “Tell Cuddy I want ketamine.” And the whole thing was a dream. Best episode EVER.

Based on that and descriptions on Erowid I think ketamine is a good contender for inducing dreams.

It can act like a sedative (you know, seeing as it’s a tranquiliser and all) but it’s actually classed as a dissociative. Being awake under a sedative means being able to react to stimulus, but with ketamine someone is in a trancelike state with analgesic (not anal gesic, sir, the pills go in your mouth) and amnesic properties.

If I know a dream is about to become a nightmare, I can usually just wake up out of it. Sweet, right? Yes, except sometimes when I wake up I try to turn on the light and the power is out. Then I know I’m still dreaming, and the nightmare starts again. I’ve woken up into other dreams ten times in a row before actually waking up. Does that happen to anyone else, or am I as mad as Ahab?

So, even after all that research and writing, I still can’t get Inception out of my head. I think I’ll have to see it again next time I’m on shore. Come with me?






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