Although this book reads more like a journal paper than one might expect based on the trade paperback format and trippy Alex Grey cover art, Dr. Rick Strassman is, after all, a research scientist, not a novelist, and thus may be forgiven for not having a thorough grasp of pacing and the value of dramatic intrigue. Specifically, about a quarter of this book deals with Strassman's convoluted attempts to gain permission to study DMT (which is, for the unfamiliar, LSD's faster-acting, shorter-lasting, knockout-punching cousin), which is admittedly an interesting story, but I am sure I'm not alone in wishing he'd given us a few extra chapters of DMT case studies instead.
And the case studies are intriguing indeed. Through various permutations of set, setting, and dosage, Strassman's volunteers experience DMT trips ranging from explorations of personal emotions and thoughts to full-blown sojourns into Cosmic Consciousness. And somewhere between these polarities of personal ego and impersonal Absolute there reside experiences of an altogether different order. It is these experiences that perhaps set the DMT molecule drastically apart from the other major psychedelic drugs. They're perhaps best explained with an example, and generally go something like this: A person is injected with DMT; within fifteen seconds the person feels a rush and suddenly finds him- or herself perceiving a completely different environment, with no major alteration in the quality of awareness, and usually there appear one or more "beings" in this environment who interact with the person and are felt, with certainty, to be entirely "real" entities, independent of, but not exactly separate from, the DMT tripper's mind. Here is how one of Strassman's subjects describes his experience:
"I felt like I was in an alien laboratory, in a hospital bed like this. . . . A sort of landing bay, or recovery area. There were beings. . . .
"They had a space ready for me. They weren't as surprised as I was. It was incredibly un-psychedelic. I was able to pay attention to detail. There was one main creature, and he seemed to be behind it all, overseeing everything. The others were orderlies, or dis-orderlies.
"They activated a sexual circuit, and I was flushed with an amazing orgasmic energy. A goofy chart popped up like an X-ray in a cartoon, and a yellow illumination indicated that the corresponding system, or series of systems, were fine. They were checking my instruments, testing things. When I was coming out, I couldn't help but think 'aliens.' "
As Strassman explains, it was these consistently similar experiences with what could only be identified as "aliens" or "elves" that he found most baffling in the course of his DMT research, and these reports eventually persuaded him to alter his whole relational approach to his volunteers. Rather than interpret and explain away, as psychiatrists are wont to do with just about everything, he decided to proceed with an open mind, to listen and encourage, and then later try to fit the pieces into some coherent theoretical framework, perhaps even invent one if current preconceptions of the nature of reality couldn't accommodate the data (such a novel approach!, sadly enough). It is this open, inquisitive attitude that makes this book eminently satisfying, despite any narrative sluggishness, because rarely does one find this caliber of fastidious, empirical-phenomenological research coupled with investigations into alien encounters, near-death experiences, and ecstatic glimpses of God. Usually, a researcher with this degree of scientific experience has already been too thoroughly digested by the modern religion of scientism to be able to see the very real duality between mind and matter, let alone to entertain such ideas as these: (1) that DMT is produced naturally in the human body by the pineal gland, and the appearance of the pineal gland in the developing human fetus at 49 days post-conception corresponds to the arrival of the soul in the body (with the DMT chemical serving as a kind of doorway between material and astral worlds); (2) that certain meditative practices, such as chanting, cause a vibratory effect in the brain that stimulates the pineal gland to release DMT, thus inciting certain spiritual experiences; and (3) that the phenomenon of alien abduction is so similar to certain DMT trips that they're likely the same thing, which in no way diminishes the "reality" of alien encounters, because, as Strassman theorizes, "Returning to the TV analogy . . . DMT provides regular, repeated, and reliable access to 'other' channels. The other planes of existence are always there. . . . But we cannot perceive them because we are not designed to do so; our hard-wiring keeps us tuned in to Channel Normal. It takes only a second or two--the few heartbeats the spirit molecule requires to make its way to the brain--to change the channel, to open our mind to these other planes of existence" (pp. 315-316). A typical alien abduction, then, might either be caused by an unusually high, but naturally occurring, release of DMT by the pineal gland in the brain, or by a similar release of DMT effected by an external, alien source: in both cases the same effect is achieved, and one is able to perceive that "other plane" whence the little gray men spring forth. (And while not as far out as those ideas, Strassman's proposal that an aberrant, consistently high-enough emission of DMT in the brain forms the basis of schizophrenia is also very persuasive, and anyone with some experience with psychedelics should appreciate how someone who had this problem could go completely crazy rather quickly.)
In conclusion, if you're at all interested in psychedelics, brain/mind relations, or parapsychology in general, this is definitely required reading. And if I could recommend only five books from the voluminous library of ufology that are actually well worth reading by any sensitive, intelligent human being, they'd be (in this order): "Angels and Aliens" by Keith Thompson, "Dimensions" by Jacques Vallée, "Communion" by Whitley Strieber, "Abduction" by John Mack--and "DMT" by Rick Strassman.
Detailed, very accessible description of Strassman's studies of the effects of intravenously administered DMT in human volunteers in a clinical setting. He describes his research protocols, his struggle to obtain government approval, and the volunteers' reports of their DMT experiences, with clarity and compassion. The book raises questions about the nature and purpose of mystical experiences, the similarity between externally induced experiences of death and rebirth, alien contact, and spiritual enlightenment and naturally occurring experiences, and the role of DMT (which occurs naturally in the body) in these types of experiences. Strassman discusses the limitations of the biomedical model in understanding these experiences, as well as the risks and benefits of using DMT as a research tool. Open-minded scientists, those on a spiritual path, therapists, and dedicated "psychonauts" will find much to ponder in this book. It enlarges the scope of rational discussion about psychedelics, and goes a long way toward dispelling the fear, ignorance, and stigma that have hampered psychedelic research for the last 30 years. The addition of an index would have been helpful, but other than that this book exceeded my expectations and deepened my sense of wonder about the nature of consciousness and the spirit.