Welcome to Afterglow, a newsletter that will change your mind. My name is Charles Bliss and I'm a psychedelic journalist from Norwich, UK.
In our second issue, we're smoking 5-MeO-DMT with George Orwell. Take a deep breath and let go. We're in for a strange trip.
In Why I Write, George Orwell says: "Good prose is like a windowpane."
I'll go one further: "Good prose is like a windowpane sprayed with the venom of the Sonoran Desert toad."
Allow me to explain.
One of the most powerful and fast-acting psychedelic compounds in the world, 5-methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine (5-MeO-DMT), is found in the venom of the Sonoran Desert toad (Incilius alvarius).
The toad is native to Mexico and the United States including California, New Mexico and Arizona. The glands on its neck and legs are gently squeezed while a pane of glass is held in front to catch the spray, which dries and crystallises.
The venom in its natural state is poisonous enough to kill a dog. But when the crystals are vaporised and smoked in a glass pipe, the toxins are destroyed. A single deep inhalation is enough to propel minds into orbit within seconds.
Users of 5-MeO-DMT report unbelievably intense visual and auditory hallucinations and euphoria as the compound binds to the brain's serotonin receptors.
But what does the toad have to do with George Orwell?
First we need to consider what Orwell meant when he said good prose — i.e. good writing, good journalism — is like a windowpane.
The writer's windowpane allows the reader to see or experience something new — it opens portals to realities. The walls between the reader and foreign subjects disappear when the writer writes well. The writer's meaning should be transparent, unclouded. The thin glass only serves to underscore how close those two worlds are, parted by the filmiest of screens.
In my conception, the writer is the toad. The writer sprays his thoughts like venom onto the blank page or screen — the windowpane. Ideas crystallise there. The reader ingests these psychoactive materials and disappears into a world. A new dimension opens. A novel perspective. A revelation.
This idea outlines what I want to achieve with this newsletter. I want to take you on a trip into alien worlds adjacent to ours but hiding in plain sight. We don't see them because the window has not yet been opened.
The effects of 5-MeO-DMT don't last long. The user might feel as if they travelled millions of lightyears away, though only a few minutes have passed in real time. But they will likely have been exposed to unimaginable mindscapes that stretched and reformulated their previous worldview, expanding the limits of what might be possible.
Psychedelic journalism can do the same. That's why I write.
Until next week,
🤯 Mind at Large
A breakdown of mind-blowing ideas I encountered this week:
🎙 Podcast – I spent the weekend driving along the North Norfolk coast while listening to music and podcasts. I enjoyed The Drug Science Podcast by Professor David Nutt and would recommend this episode with Dr Rosalind Watts on how to become a psychedelic therapist.
📖 Book – I recently re-read Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse 5 and savoured every page. It's a mind-bending, sci-fi, anti-war novel about Billy Pilgrim coming unstuck in time after the firebombing of Dresden during World War II. I was surprised to discover a delightful scattering of psychedelic imagery, including the following passage, which reminded me of Stanislav Grof's research into pre-natal experiences in LSD therapy: "His attention began to swing grandly through the full arc of his life, passing into death, which was violet light. There wasn't anybody else there, or any thing. There was just violet light — and a hum. And then Billy swung into life again, going backwards until he was in pre-birth, which was red light and bubbling sounds."
“Our normal waking consciousness… is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different… No account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded.”
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