I talked with Adam Strauss about Ketamine for OCD, Trip Sitters, and The Mushroom Cure Los Angeles

I’ve been friends with Adam Strauss ever since hearing about The Mushroom Cure back in 2016.

At the time, I was aware of some psychedelic success stories for less mainstream use cases, like psilocybin or LSD for cluster headaches or stuttering, but I had never heard about psilocybin being used to help treat Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I was intrigued and wanted to know more and see the show.

Adam and I banter on the phone fairly often. Generally, about the overall gossip within the psychedelic community and what future comedy projects we could collaborate on. Before I met Adam I didn’t really know anyone with OCD. It was just an abstract concept to me. Like most people, I had the image of the stereotypical germaphobe who obsessively scrubs their hands in a futile attempt at washing the thousands of bacteria away. It wasn’t until I sat down to watch his roughly 90 minute monologue that I understood the acute struggle that people with OCD face every day.

Adam recently packed up his bags and made the move from Brooklyn to the Bay Area. The Mushroom Cure has been extended in Berkeley until July 7th, and debuts in Los Angeles at the Lyric Hyperion Theatre on June 20-21, 2018.

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What’s life in San Francisco like? 

I don’t know what life in San Francisco is like because I am not there specifically, I’m in Marin County in San Rafael and it’s just gorgeous here. You have mountains, I call them mountains, a lot of locals might consider them hills. You have these peaks and ocean and this incredibly rugged coastline. It really highlights for me what I’m missing being in New York, first and foremost is nature.

 

How has the reception of The Mushroom Cure in San Francisco been different than New York? 

It hasn’t been that different from one place to another. One thing that I’m doing here is a lot of talk backs after the shows. We’ll have various researchers, advocates, I had Ethan Nadelmann, Emanuel Sferios, Bob Jesse is coming on June 29th.

 

You had someone from Stanford recently too right?

Yes. We had Carolyn Rodriguez from Stanford. She heads up the Rodriguez Lab (Translational Therapeutics Lab) and that was one of my favorite ones for a couple of reasons. She’s working with ketamine for OCD. (You can find their OCD research here.) She’s the only person in the world who’s researched it and the results are … so she’s only completed one study and it was a small pilot study but the results were extremely promising and now she’s undertaking a significantly larger study where they’re not only going to measure treatment outcomes but they’re also going to put people, OCD patients, on ketamine in FMRI machines and get some insight as to what’s happening in the brain.

What’s so exciting about that is not only will that shed insight I think on how ketamine works for OCD and probably in general, but it’ll also shed insight on OCD. That’s one of I think the values of psychedelic research is it gives you sort of a different lens to look at phenomena with.

Terence McKenna talks about part of the significance of the psychedelic experience is that it allows you to triangulate reality. Because without psychedelics he says we just have two states. We have normal waking consciousness and we have being asleep. And with two data points you can’t really triangulate. You can’t really nail down a position. But with three data points, and he maintains that psychedelics are the third data point, you can as he puts it, triangulate reality. It’s sort of a typical McKenna, brilliant but also a bit far out and hard to pin down.

 

Yeah I have no idea what you’re talking about. 

Yeah let’s just cut the McKenna stuff out.

Let me get back to ketamine quickly. What’s so fascinating about this is you learn more about any brain state if you can observe it through different facets. So, putting people in an FMRI who have OCD is going to tell you some things. Putting people in an FMRI who have OCD and are on ketamine is going to tell you a lot more. Not just about the ketamine effects but about OCD in general.

 

 

We've had so many great talk backs after The Mushroom Cure, but I'm posting this one first, with Dr. Carolyn Rodriguez of Stanford University, for two reasons. First, it's about using ketamine to treat OCD, and there's very little out there on this very promising approach. Second, I'm deeply inspired by Carolyn's passion. She's a hero who's questioning assumptions and pioneering new treatments to relieve the profound suffering OCD can cause.

Posted by Adam Strauss on Wednesday, June 13, 2018

 

 

Have you used ketamine for your OCD? 

No I haven’t. I’ve only had a couple high dose ketamine experiences years ago and they were intranasal. So, I can say I wasn’t necessarily looking at it for OCD relief and it was a while ago. I don’t remember specifically if my symptoms changed. I have not spoken to anyone who’s used ketamine specifically in that way.

 

You have two Mushroom Cure shows in LA on June 20-21. 

Right. Yup. Yeah. I’m looking forward to that because I’ve never brought the show to LA before. There’s obviously a fairly large healthy psychedelic community there. People have been asking me to bring the show there for years so I’m excited to finally make that happen.

 

 

 

 

You recently opened up for Michael Pollan in San Francisco. How’d that go?

It was a lot of fun. I wasn’t doing anything from The Mushroom Cure. I was just doing psychedelic stand up. That was great. I love doing those sorts of shows. You’ve seen me do some. I’ve done some for Psymposia. I did one at Psychedelic Science last year just because I do talk about psychedelics to some degree when I’m just performing you know, generic comedy in a comedy club, but you can’t go too deep because people just don’t have the baseline knowledge.

That is changing. Now even in a comedy club I can talk about ayahuasca and I can be pretty confident that …

 

You don’t just get crickets? 

You don’t just get crickets, but you do get some crickets. Some people don’t know what it is, and I’ll give em a quick one sentence synopsis. I can get away more and more with psychedelic comedy in just plain old comedy clubs but performing for a psychedelically savvy audience is just a lot of fun. I think what’s so fascinating about these experiences is, well a few things. Part of it is they can be simply bizarre and just extreme, but there can be something kind of universal about those experiences. The specifics may vary but a lot of people have had broadly similar experiences on say mushrooms, you know, potentially that ego death experience, some of the visual experiences.

So talking with an audience that has actually experienced that stuff allows you to do a lot of “in jokes” and talk about things where I think part of the excitement of the audience is they haven’t really heard people talking about this stuff in a comedic context. There can be a tendency to take this stuff seriously and it should be taken seriously in some context. But I think it’s ripe for humor and it hasn’t been mined much for humor.

 

Some people that I know have OCD and I say “Hey my friend Adam Strauss has this amazing show called The Mushroom Cure. He had OCD and he…”

Sorry you cut out. The last part I heard you say was he has an amazing show. So we can end the interview right there.

 

Um. So. “…It’s about him trying to cure his OCD with psilocybin.” I’m sure you get people who come up to you and say “Hey I want to try this.”. What do you tell them? 

Yeah, it’s changed over time but what I tell people, and I’m actually going to make a short video.

 

Well because I’m quite certain that you’re pushing this potential treatment way more than the original study. Nobody knows about that. I think they know about your show now. So you’re kind of like the promoter of psilocybin for OCD. 

I would push back on the term promoter just because, you’ve seen the show more than once and without giving it away, it’s not a clear cut like, yeah, I took mushrooms and everything was better.

 

Right

That’s one reason. It’s not a panacea. It’s not a silver bullet. But do I think psilocybin was helpful? Absolutely. Do I feel it was potentially even necessary for the recovery I’ve had? Yes. Though I’d say just psilocybin by itself wouldn’t have been sufficient.

There’s so many factors. This is one of the tricky things about working with psychedelics. If you take ibuprofen it’s going to have a fairly reliable effect. It may change a little bit depending on how much food is in your stomach but it’s basically going to affect you the same way. There’s so many factors that go into the experience that I think ultimately influence the outcome you’re going to get when you’re trying to treat a condition.

When people ask me for advice I usually start out with a pretty strong caveat, which is this stuff is incredibly promising not just based on my own experience, and not just based on that study I read out of the University of Arizona but also based on all the research that’s happened subsequently for PTSD et cetera. But this stuff is inherently unpredictable in a way that other drugs slash medicines are not.

It’s not here take 30mg of psilocybin and call me in the morning. It’s in the context of a very carefully controlled experience where there’s a lot therapy administered before ..

 

And when you went into this you had a very carefully controlled setting correct…?

No. I definitely did not. I don’t know if that was sarcasm…

I did it in a pretty stupid way. In my defense I’ll say I was desperate. I wanted relief. I needed relief. My broad approach, if you even want to call it an approach, was I took a lot of different drugs in uncontrolled contexts at varying doses. Some of them I took with my girlfriend at the time who’s in the show, who was sort of my unofficial guide. Some of them I took alone. As you know some of them did not turn out well at all. There were brushes with law enforcement et cetera.

 

Adam with Michael Pollan

 

How would you do it differently now? 

I would work with a guide. I actually did recently have my first truly guided psychedelic experience three or four weeks ago. It was a very different experience.

 

Did you feel it was more beneficial? 

I’m still unpacking it.

 

You didn’t call 911?

Right. The cops did not get involved. So that was a win right there. What came through very clearly to me is oh this is a very different way to do it. You asked if I felt it was more beneficial and the reason I hesitated is…how can I put it? When I was doing this stuff at the time my baseline was so bad, my OCD was so bad, my general suffering was so acute that there was a lot of room for improvement. I’m a lot better now. I’m not a perfect specimen of enlightened humanity but I don’t suffer to the same degree or frequency or anything like it that I did then, so I think the improvements I would expect to see now would by definition be a lot more subtle.

So that’s why I hesitate to say if it was more beneficial. But what I can say without hesitation is I think had I had that experience, that container of a guided experience when my OCD was awful, and I was trying to cure it, I think I would have had a better outcome.

I think now there’s the benefit of, unfortunately it’s underground, but there is a network, and a growing network of these sort of underground therapists, trained people, most of them are trained, they’re psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers, who have also trained in the art and science of guiding people on psychedelic experiences. There’s fairly rigorous underground training programs out here in the Bay Area that kind of model a medical education. You learn, you train, you have the experiences yourself, you practice with more experienced guides.

If I were to do it again, if I could go back in time I definitely would have found a guide. Though I will say it probably wouldn’t have made for as good a story. So there is that upside. If you’re going to talk about something on stage, pain and suffering and terror are ironically your friends there.