Never Normal Newsletter

Ayahuasca and Tony Robbins


Last week I wrote about the best places to live, including a surprise entry from Bulgaria that’s popular with nomad families.

The places you spend time, the people you meet there, and the ideas and opportunities that come your way as a result, all have a huge impact on your life.

Your surroundings shape who you become.

That’s a big part of the reason why I love to travel and live in different places. As Francis Tapon and I discussed, traveling the world allows us to “pick up lots of cultural souvenirs and grab the best of humanity.”

But ultimately, the one place where we all spend our lives is inside our own minds.

“Wherever you go, there you are” as they say.

And if your mind is a miserable place to be, then your experience of life will be miserable, regardless of your physical location. Unfortunately, that is the reality for millions of people, including (especially) many living in the most prosperous countries in the world.

In the UK, one out of every six adults takes medication to treat depression. The situation is similar in the US, where 22.3% of non-Hispanic white women take antidepressants. These numbers have been climbing steadily for the last couple of decades.

You don’t need to be a doctor to diagnose that something is wrong. Why do so many people need to be drugged?

Maybe it’s our modern lifestyles. Strapped to screens and chairs. Stuffed full of fake food and refined sugar. Separated from family and friends. And worshipping at the altars of money and fame.

But if you mention the epidemic of depression as evidence for the fact that Normal is Broken, you’re often told:

“Depression is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain.”

This point is wielded as a sort of coffin nail, ending the conversation and absolving the rest of society from having any responsibility in the matter.

Now, a comprehensive new review of the research shows that depression is probably not caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain:

Many people take antidepressants because they have been led to believe their depression has a biochemical cause, but this new research suggests this belief is not grounded in evidence

Although first proposed in the 1960s, the serotonin theory of depression started to be widely promoted by the pharmaceutical industry in the 1990s in association with its efforts to market a new range of antidepressants, known as selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs.

The serotonin theory of depression has been one of the most influential and extensively researched biological theories of the origins of depression. Our study shows that this view is not supported by scientific evidence. It also calls into question the basis for the use of antidepressants.

A separate study published earlier this year also concluded that, “Antidepressants are not associated with improved quality of life in the long run.”

Side note: I can’t help but wonder if future generations will look back on the use of such pharmaceutical interventions in our time the way that we look back on the lobotomies performed in decades past.

Maybe this new research will help some of the alternative treatments for depression and other mental illnesses to become more mainstream.

Anne-Laure on Ayahuasca

Ayahuasca is an “entheogen” that’s been used in rituals for centuries in the Amazon region by shamans and their followers. Most preparations include DMT, a powerful psychoactive drug.

Anne-Laure Le Cunff is a former Google employee, now a Neuroscience PhD candidate, and the founder of Ness Labs — one of my favorite communities on the internet.

Anne-Laure recently shared a vulnerable, first-hand account of her experience trying ayahuasca. Most descriptions of psychadelic experiences boil down to “you had to be there”, but Anne-Laure managed to convey much more:

In the midst of the panic, I remembered the mantra my friend shared with me. Let go, or get dragged. So I let go. I relaxed my body and my mind, and observed the infinite code rolling in front of my closed eyes without trying to decipher its content. As I calmed down, the code slowly opened like a curtain, revealing a deep dark space that felt like the center of the Universe. Past, present, future, all in one place. Full of nothing and empty of everything. This is the most peaceful place there is, I thought.

The effects lasted well beyond the initial session. A few months later:

For the first time in my life, I can confidently say that I’m happy. Of course, in the past few months, I have faced challenges, and not everything has been rosy, but not once I’ve had a suicidal thought.

Anne-Laure’s experience is not exactly unusual. Ayahuasca is already being studied as a treatment for depression and anxiety.

People who have consumed ayahuasca report having mystical experiences and spiritual revelations regarding their purpose on earth, the true nature of the universe, and deep insight into how to be the best person they possibly can. Many people also report therapeutic effects, especially around depression and personal traumas.


Another alternative treatment for depression that’s being studied is…

Tony Robbins

I was long skeptical of the giant guy on TV who uses too many exclamation points when he talks.

But I’ve come around over the years. After listening to a few interviews, reading some of his books, and eventually attending one of his in-person events, I can say that:

His style may not be for everyone, but the stuff Tony teaches is universally useful. From the locker room, helping champion athletes turn the game around at halftime, to talking a suffering soul down off of the ledge instead of jumping.

Now Tony’s unorthodox methodologies are being studied by Stanford as a treatment for depression:

Stanford Genetics Lab conducted a controlled study at a Tony Robbins Date with Destiny event. Of the participants that were clinically depressed before the seminar, 30 days after the event, 100% of study participants who were depressed were in remission, and their average improvement was 87.2%. No drugs, and only 6 days of time. Additionally, at the beginning of the study, 17% of participants experienced suicidal thoughts. One month after Date with Destiny, none of the participants reported suicidal thoughts!

Dr. Jacob Wilson Ph.D, co-author of the study said:

I’ve been doing research for almost 20 years and have published almost 300 papers. I’ve never seen anything like this. The results are absolutely incredible.

I always take studies like this with a grain of salt, because they’re usually funded either directly or indirectly by an organization that stands to benefit (in this case, Tony’s company).

But I would be surprised if the results aren’t at least directionally accurate. Attending one of Tony’s events does put you in a different state.

If I had the time and money, I would make it a point to attend at least one of his events every year (as many of his devotees do).

In the meantime, the image of Tony’s huge head just a few feet away, egging me on as I stride barefoot across bed of hot coals is etched in my mind for good.

That’s all for this week!

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I write occasional emails to share what I’m thinking, learning, and doing. It’s all related to the idea of breaking free from the “default plan” in life.

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