Sections of interview taken from:
Voices of Truth
Conversations with Scientists, Thinkers and Healers
by Nina L. Diamond
Journalist and writer Nina L. Diamond brings a rare insight and wit to the longest, most in-depth conversations ever published with fourteen prominent and innovate scientists, thinkers and healers, including best-selling authors James Redfield, Deepak Chopra, Brian Weiss, Caroline Myss, and physicist Michio Kaku, as well as award-winning former CNN war correspondent and novelist Charles Jaco, NASA’s JoAnn Morgan, leading neuroscientist Deborah Mash, and Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi and director of the Gandhi Institute.
“The brain is the last biological frontier,” says Mash, who is also one of the world’s leading addiction scientists, the university’s Jeanne C. Levy Professor of Parkinson’s Disease Research, and a Professor of Neurology, Neuroscience and Pharmacology. “We need to study the human brain post-mortem — diseased brains and healthy ones for comparison.” OMNI Magazine, February 1994.
Finding treatments and a cure for addiction has been one of Mash’s main professional crusades, and her research in this and other areas of neuroscience have been widely published to substantial acclaim in science journals. She leads the way, also, in combining the best of modern medicine, with the best of what alternative and herbal medicine has to offer, and coined the term NEUROSHAMANISM to describe this approach in her landmark work with the drug Ibogaine, which is being studied as a possible cure for addiction.
Despite the U.S. government’s historic queasiness about sanctioning mind-active drugs, ibogaine penetrated the bias and survived to become only the second psychoactive drug to get the green light on the long road to FDA approval (MDMA was the first), and Mash heads the team conducting the FDA human trials.
Paradoxically, ibogaine’s curative power seems to derive from its consciousness-altering properties. It’s derived from the roots of Tabernanthe Iboga, a shrub native to equatorial Africa, where tribes have long used it in small doses to remain alert while hunting, and in larger amounts during sacred rituals. Since the 1960’s addicts have found that using ibogaine causes them to lose their craving for the drugs they were addicted to, and does this WITHOUT any withdrawal symptoms.
Mash received her Ph.D. in Pharmacology at the University of Miami in 1984, and then had a two-year fellowship with Harvard Medical School at Beth Israel Hospital in Massachusetts. In 1986, she joined the University of Miami as a neuroscientist and professor. She has also remained politically active and from 1988 to 1998 served on the North Bay Village City Commission, in the Biscayne Bay island town off Miami Beach that she and her husband call home. Mash is also the Secretary of the Health Council of South Florida. All of this while frequently traveling the globe to meet with other scientists, lecture, and present her research at conferences and meetings where she is in constant demand.
Nina Diamond: How would you describe your mission?
Deborah Mash: It’s something deeply personal, and it’s something very silent. And there’s something very sacred and close to me that drives me. It’s something that I hope to see come to fruition in my lifetime. And simply stated, it’s just a mission to learn something fundamental that either has an impact directly, or somewhere down the road, to alleviate human suffering. And that arena for human suffering is something that’s very fundamental because it goes to the root of basic behavior, and that is that it deals with the brain, the central nervous system, and the phenomenology of the soul — the way it interacts with the array of neural architecture that we call the central nervous system.
Nina Diamond: How do you explain the difference between neurology and neuroscience?
Deborah Mash: Neurology is focused on the study of diseases of the brain. Neurology give us a window into explaining basic brain function. The interesting thing about neuroscience is that it’s a little bit of all disciples. And that makes sense. If you’re going to try to understand behavior, you’ve got to come at it with everything you’ve got: chemistry, anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, molecular biology, genetics.
Nina Diamond: In the study of consciousness, we have a point where the study of ancient mysticism and science are overlapping. Scientists, even the most skeptical, are saying, “Hey, wait a minute, this is beginning to look like what the mystics used to talk about.” What’s your take on that?
Deborah Mash: I think that scientists aren’t all that enlightened yet in terms of being able to have a language where they can begin to see a fundamental overlap with much of the mystical traditions and the spiritual truths. They’re just not there yet because they want to reduce it all down to…
Nina Diamond: Where they can measure it in a lab.
Deborah Mash: Exactly. They want to take it apart to the specifics of the nervous system where they can measure an input/output arrangement. In the process of doing that, they lose out on the bigger picture.
Nina Diamond: As someone who is a scientist, but also as someone who views spirituality as an important part of her life, how would you define spirituality?
Deborah Mash: For me there’s no distinction between the two. I’m someone who would go up against those who would say, “If you can’t prove it, it doesn’t exist.” For me, it’s the wonderment of looking at a brain. From having the experience of actually being able to hold brain tissue in my hands and to study it, to see the diversity and to look at the life of the human being and then see it reflected in the architecture of a brain, there’s no question that there’s some type of emergent reality that is manifested in the central nervous system. Why evolve a central nervous system? Why have this ability to perceive and express a view of reality and have all of the free will that this gives us — because this is virtually limitless — so why evolve a complex brain, why go to all this trouble?
Nina Diamond: At the risk of being tomatoed and pelted with stones, other scientists have talked about and written about the link between mysticism or shamanism and science, including physicist Fred Alan Wolf, who wrote the book THE EAGLE’S QUEST about his experiences with shamans. This is the science of the altered brain. That’s what neuroscience studies — the brain in all its states. Why should one state be given any more or less credibility than another?
Deborah Mash: Yes. And that’s what’s behind my work with ibogaine. We’re also looking into the relationship between sleep states like REM (Rapid Eye Movement) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, chemical addiction, and basic behavior and personality. You know, when you go into sleep states, that’s when we begin to cross the mirror between waking reality and spirit. We’re right there on the edge, which is why sometimes with lucid dreaming you can begin to bring some of this (spiritual and metaphysical experience) back. That’s one of the intriguing things about ibogaine, apart from how it works on chemical dependency — it’s acting on that edge of consciousness. let’s talk about detox mechanisms in the brain. In the course of human evolution, we’ve evolved what are called cytochromes, chytochrome P-450’s…
Nina Diamond: Which is not a car. This doesn’t come with a leather interior [we laugh].
Deborah Mash: Sounds like a car [she laughs], but most of these are found in our liver. Our liver is our detox system. And it detoxes literally everything. Some of these enzymes that are in our liver are always turned on. And some of these are induced. So, nicotine, for example, induces a certain family of P-450’s. So does alcohol. To detox what you’ve just put in your body, in this case nicotine or alcohol.
Nina Diamond: Doesn’t all this get down to the fact that Science, with a capital “S” is part of the System, with a capital “S”, and so even though scientists may say privately, “We should be doing XYZ,” they also know that the System is not set up to support that. That they have to deal with the government, and the funding, and they’re wary of “rocking the boat.”
Deborah Mash: Absolutely, it’s fear. It’s absolutely driven by the scientists’ fear of losing their ability to do science.
Nina Diamond: Fear and economics.
Deborah Mash: Fear and economics drive it. And it’s the new priesthood. With the Age of Enlightenment came the new priesthood and that new priesthood is Science and Technology. And so we have a consumer movement in America saying, “We want something more. We are now skeptical. We bought into this and we believed everything you told us. You were going to cure cancer — you have not. You were going to cure mental illness — you have not. You were going to give us gene transfer — you have not.” And we continue to see generations of youth being lost more and more to disease of the soul, to society-based illnesses from the toxic pollutants in the environment to the mental pollution in the environment. And you give us no road map, no strategy. And perhaps that explains the backlash and the turn to alternative medicine and spirituality.
Nina Diamond: In time, and probably not a long time, there will be a huge paradigm shift.
Deborah Mash: There has to be. It is the structure of scientific revolutions that when we become completely polarized there is a fundamental shake-up that allows us to go to the next level.
Nina Diamond: And we’re bridging that right now.
Deborah Mash: And it’s my belief that there are enough of us in the scientific movement who understand the complex phenomenology of the biological system but recognize at the same time that there may be other forces that we don’t have descriptors for yet, that we don’t have the terminology for, that we don’t even begin to understand, that only the greatest of the great — like an Albert Einstein or a Linus Pauling — could begin to articulate. And from that fundamental paradigm shift there will be a new scientific movement that will come, that will begin to link the spiritual to the material, to help to guide this synthesis of the biological system with spiritual forces on the planet. I can only hope and pray that is happens quickly. Because I fear for the increased brain pathology that I see, the mental pathology, the brain-based illnesses that seem to be increasing for all age groups.
Nina Diamond: What else are you learning about the links between mysticism and neuroscience? About the soul or spirit and the corresponding things that go on in the brain and the rest of the body?
Deborah Mash: It’s very likely that there’s a whole other tier of molecules in the brain that are acted upon by the cytochrome systems. Two of these classes of molecules that have gotten some interest lately are tryptamines and the betacarbolines. The betacarbonlines are related to [the mind-active plant used by shamans] ayahuasca and ibogaine. Ibogaine has a betacarboline “backbone,” the back of the molecule is betacarbonline-like. Well, it turns out that there are endogenous betacarbolines in our brain. Dimethytryptamine (DMT) is one of the active ingredients in the ayahuasca. And we manufacture tryptamines in our own brain, too. So, it’s very likely that we are spinning off endogenously these molecules that are very much involved in our ability to alter our state of perception.
Nina Diamond: Without taking any drugs or substances.
Deborah Mash: Without taking any exogenous (out of the body) substances.
Nina Diamond: So, we just have to figure out what triggers our body to make it naturally. Do they have any clue?
Deborah Mash: I think that right now we don’t really have a clue. It’s been so poorly described by scientists thus far.