October 22, 2014 Fringe, Podcast 5 Comments

Episode 49

In Episode #49, Jesse speaks to Crash, owner of Float Lab Technologies, a sensory deprivation tank center in Venice Beach, California. Crash explains the ins and outs of the Float Lab experience, and what can happen to our minds when they’re freed from all external distractions.

Also, some thought-provoking questions arise: Could marijuana actually promote neurogenesis? Is jet lag beatable? And what would it be like to be just a “point of consciousness”?

Episode Highlights

0:51Introduction to Crash and sensory deprivation tanks
2:21This Week in Neuroscience: Marijuana and Neurogenesis - What’s It All About?
4:19iTunes Review thank-yous
5:33What are flotation tanks, and why should you care?
7:43Average lengths of sessions
8:15Comparing the experiences of "regular" customers and practiced meditators
10:24Do Luke Skywalker flotation tanks exist, or, what's the difference between horizontal and vertical tanks?
11:23Float Lab's role in the experience
12:52Manufactured fear of the unknown
14:06John C. Lilly, sensory deprivation tank inventor
14:44Comment on the relatively low number of people who've taken the plunge
15:42Psychedelics in combination with float tanks
17:15Jesse's experiences with sensory deprivation tanks, and thoughts on being just "a point of consciousness"
20:27Ruthless Listener-Retention Gimmick: Is It Possible To Beat Jet Lag?
24:40Open question to any listeners in the know: Does blindness affect how the body deals with jet lag?
25:30Axon: New features in Version 1.2.1

Key Terms Mentioned

Episode Transcript hideshow

**Voice-over:** *I try to imagine a fellow smarter than myself, then I try to think - What would he do?* **Announcer:** *Charge up your axons, ready your receptors and shift your lobes in to upper beta phase. You're listening to Smart Drug Smarts - the podcast dedicated to helping you optimize your brain with the latest breakthroughs in neuroscience, nootropics and psychopharmocology.* **Jesse:** Hello and welcome to Smart Drug Smarts, I'm your host Jesse Lawler excited to bring you the latest episode number 49 in this podcast dedicated to the betterment of your own brain by any and all means at your disposal. I would like to give a special little thank you at the beginning of this episode to my friend Jimmy Hayes who lent me the microphone that I'm recording this. I really really like the sound of this microphone, it's a very clear one. And like I said my old mic took a humpty-dumpty like fall not too long ago and I haven't got it replaced yet. But Jimmy spotted me a microphone and we're all in his debt. Speaking of friends this is actually kind of a special Smart Drug Smarts episode in that, I'm interviewing somebody who I actually know from my real life. This is somebody whom I've known actually since prior to starting the whole Smart Drug Smarts podcast - not like a bosom buddy of this guy, but he's somebody who's establishment I'd frequented on a few occasions. A guy named Crash. Not sure if Crash has a last name or if it's like Madonna and I kind of doubt that Crash is what's on his drivers license. But that's how he introduced himself. Crash owns a flotation tank company in Venice beach, California. For those of you who don't know - flotation tanks also known as sensory deprivation tanks are basically like a closed off environment that you get in to, you're floating in this warm tub of water that's the same temperature as the exterior of your skin. Air's the same temperature as the water. There's no light, there's no sound. So basically you've got a completely zero stimuli environment that you're in for however long you're in this thing and your brain tends to do real interesting things real fast when it's completely starved off any sort of sensory input. So not exactly a Smart Drugs episode because nothing pharmaceutical about this one but definitely since we're all interested in brain stuff here; flotation tanks offer a really interesting way to get a look at what your brain does in some sort of a exotic situations. And if you hang around until the end of the episode, I'm going to let you know about a new tactic that science might have found to battle jet lag, which is been plaguing the human species pretty much ever since we figured out air travel. Now scientists might have found something that's a little bit promising but we'll see. And of course before we get into any of that let's do This week in Neuroscience! **Voice-over:** *Smart Drug Smarts - This week in Neuroscience!* **Jesse:** Okay this is an inaptly named This week in Neuroscience! Because this is actually from a research article published in 2005 in the journal American Society For Clinical Investigations. This came across my desk this week and I thought that this was a really interesting one because it actually flew in the face of probably what most people believe to be the case, which is that marijuana might actually promote neurogenesis. I say might, according to this study it does actually promote neurogenesis both in a embryonic and adult brain that some of the psycho-active compounds within the marijuana plant called cannabinoids promote both embryonic and adult hippocampus neurogenesis. Hippocampus is a part of the brain that among other things is deeply involved in the formation of memory and is one of the main areas where non embryonic brains continue to produce new brain cells, up to 5000 brain cells per day. In adults this tapers off over the course of the life span. But interestingly cannabinoids tend to foster and promote this neurogenesis and produce anxiolytic and antidepressant-like effects. Anxiolytic - which I very much hope I'm pronouncing correctly - basically means anxiety decreasing. Now another interesting wrinkle in this is there something called endocannabinoids, which are cannabinoids that are synthesized naturally by the human body, these tend to actually reduce hippocampul neurogenesis. But the plant derived cannabinoids have the opposite effect. Really kind of flies in the face of what one would assume, specially with all the cultural baggage that we bring along with stoned out potheads, not necessarily seeming like they have the best memory. But marijuana is a really really interesting plant for a whole lot of reasons. I'm really trying to get a marijuana expert on of the upcoming episodes to talk about some of the conflicting and counter-intuitive science around this plant. I'm not a pot person myself but some of the stuff you read kind of makes you wonder if maybe you should be. But stay tuned and wait for that episode. In the mean time let's move on. **Voice-over:** *Smart Drugs Smarts.* **Jesse:** And in slightly less relevant but nevertheless excellent news, picked up another 5 star review by Coffee956324 who said, "Enjoying the show since the beginning. Hope it continues for a while, great interviews, information and accessibility. And of course we're talking about iTunes, the most important platform, although there are several. I should not undercut our friends at Stitcher and stuff like that. But of all the places that syndicate podcasts, iTunes is the biggest one and if you want to throw a bone to your old friends at Smart Drug Smarts, it is definitely helpful for us to let other folks know about it through the iTunes secret magical search algorithm to throw up some good reviews. We got a nice number of high star rating reviews now which makes me do a little jig when no one's looking and really appreciate everybody who's taken the time to do that. And now let's segue into our main interview which as I said is with Crash. Unlike a lot of the interviews that we've dobne over the course of the podcasts, where some of the drugs in question I haven't taken and some of the technologies in question I've not yet tried; this is one I've actually tried for myself and I can really vouch that it is quite the interesting experience. I'll go into my own thoughts little at the end but suffice to say that I was enough of a fan of my flotation tank experience that as soon as it occurred to me to make this episode, I knew that it was something that I had to do. So with no further adieu - Crash. **Jesse:** Can you give for the absolute lay person the description of what a flotation tank is and why somebody should care? **Crash:** It's a chamber containing 1000 pounds of Epsom salts or so, which are then melted into the water. So you get 4 lbs of Epsom salt per gallon in this solution, that's in this container now that ranges in size 4 to 6 feet wide. Ours are 7 feet tall and 8 feet long. And then there inside of this container is this solution and the solution is a foot or so deep. And then you're in the dark because when the doors go closed, there's no light; the walls are thick and well insulated. So they are resistant to sound. So the concept there is when you're in this environment you're also not required to do gravity navigation due to the density of the solution itself. Which is heated up to your outside skin temperature, roughly 94 - 95 degrees F. The temperature of the solution is then to blend you in with it. Where it's not warm or cold but more or less neutral. So you're in a neutral feeling, so you really don't feel anything and then it's dark so your reference is not there and then the lack of sound. They thought in the beginning that once you turn the stimulation to the brain off, the brain would shut down. But what was illustrated I guess, through some sort of testing they had done at some point in history, that when they shut the stimulation off to the brain it actually goes on. Because it's actually searching for something to do. Once you take away all the stimulus it's still actively pursuing a task. So it's interesting if you can direct that inwardly to consider certain aspects of your own personal development then that you might want to focus on in order to make changes or modifications. Or even reinforce some of your ideas that you had, that perhaps somebody else said, "Hey now, that's not the best idea." Or whatever that guy said. And then you go in there and you take gander at it from the perspective which you feel like it should be considered and you see that maybe it is valid. **Jesse:** How long do people normally stay in one of these tanks where there are you know, completely cut-off from the outside stimulus? **Crash:** Here in Venice or we're opening another place in Westwood as well; we have 2 hour sessions for 40 dollars. Where we let the people stay for 2 hours. You know if they want to get out, feel free to go ahead and split, that's cool. **Jesse:** Yeah, not like there's a lock on the door. **Crash:** No, no. Very easy to get in and out of. We probably got about 90% of the people making the full 2 hours. And that's quite a long time to be in there with yourself, thinking about you. **Jesse:** Yeah, right. That sort of sounds a lot like the Buddhist philosophy, which makes me think and ask - how many of the people, specially your repeat customers that aren't doing this as a one-time, "Oh, this could be weird"; but people that come back for many many sessions. What's the crossover between that and meditation and meditators? **Crash:** You know that was in the beginning what I thought was interesting because some of these guys, they used to come here - this sheikh. I used to get to do stuff I don't get to do anymore in there. With deep type of stuff, really it takes a bit to get to that and what that is. I used to be in a, we're thinking, "Whoa", these guys they got their swami or the sheikh and all they got their credentials. And then I noticed that these people in the chamber there, they didn't have these chops. I mean they weren't as deep as I thought they would be, based on their practices that related to other issues. Like if they would practice this meditation and stuff doesn't make up for anything except for not exceptional. I mean it's not to be considered because somebody has practiced these other things that gives them any kind of expertise. And this other thing which is what blew my mind because I thought they would be able to, you know get their mind in a lot of cases. But I see sometimes kid or people that don't have any background in any kind of discipline and they go way out there. You know being disciplined in itself is something you're holding on to. And you're concepts about what that discipline represents and the process it took you to get to be disciplined and what you were told. That's all stuff that can be done without too. Between these people that are skilled at that one thing and then this thing, I think it could be considered to be an advantage for sure. You know it's another level of the same thing but it is indeed another level of it. I mean you still have to go through and it's a stronger tap than sitting on a rug "Om-ing" I think. **Jesse:** Yeah, I would tend to agree with that, it really is such an other worldly experience. I remember before I'd been into a flotation tank I had, like my vision of it was incorrect. I remember in Empire Strikes Back, the Star Wars movie you know, Luke Skywalker at the beginning is, he's completely submerged in like a vertical fish tank with a mask feeding him oxygen, hooked up to his face. But he's completely underwater. I was kind of thinking that like a sensory deprivation tank was something like that. Also the term that I had in my head was sensory deprivation tank vs flotation tanks. Are there 2 different things, does the Luke Skywalker version actually exist or is that just, you know some complete fanciful misconception that I had? **Crash:** I think the original one that they did that Lilly built was a vertical one. The horizontal one, I think has the most comfort to it. where you 're not encumbered by the apparatus there that would require the other way. They were hooked in to a breathing modality and what not and this that, as far as I know. **Jesse:** So you've seen so many thousands of people go in and out over the years. What do you see as some of the commonalities versus the people that really love this experience and the people that freak out and aren't comfortable with it? **Crash:** We don't ever like hang around down there. Once we get them in there we kind of like go up to the office and let the people do it themselves. And that is where the issues are developed from - is these people they will be in there with themselves and the thing doesn't do anything at all. What we do is get it really clean and we have a certified system. We're the only company in the world that actually manufactures NSF 50 certified systems that are also UL listed. That will be happening in to the month. Ann Arbor laboratory for electrical safety. So these are all aspects of what is it that we do as far as what we provide has to do with the equipment and you know stuff like that. We just give you a little bit of an orientation and then say, "Okay have a nice time in there with yourself." We don't want to have a chat afterwards or have a cookie. You know some people want to talk or whatever like that. We're not into the psychological evaluations. We have no real interest in getting that involved with people. So what we do is try to setup a thing where they can come in and do their thing and split. So we don't ever really find too much. But people come back. What's funny though is a lot of these people that seem to be on the edge of having trouble with themselves, you know where they weren't going to be able to allow themselves to do this for some reason or whatever. Once they get in there they're fine because it's a manufactured fear that's not based on anything real. It's a concept that they have derived from a vision that they have without anything to really base it on. There's no model there. So instead of minding what's actually the deal, they become creative and create a frightening style of a situation that doesn't exist. But once they get passed that and they're in there then they go, "Oh wow! This is okay. I'm not scared at all. I was only scared because I didn't know what I was doing. Now I'm here, I'm not scared, I can dig this." And the way you know that's happened is because when you come down 2 hours later, they're still there. They're okay now. Once they got in there - fine. Going in is a little shaky sometimes, you know. It's new ground for people, it's understandable, you know. **Jesse:** Yeah, absolutely. How long has this technology been around? How long have people been doing this? **Crash:** There was a guy John Lilly that invented it in the '50s. What our Float Lab has been focused on for ever so long is the regulations and the standards that we've been working on with the authorities then to regulate and monitor and otherwise be included in the operational practices of these locations. Where people are coming in here and getting in to this solution right after somebody else did. We're working with NSF on these guidelines setup for health and safety. **Jesse:** I've always been kind of fascinated that it's not something which is a better known, more frequently used. To me it's akin to jumping out of an airplane. It's like everybody's kind of curious like, "Oh yeah, it will be fun to jump out of an airplane once in my life." I guess there's enough drop-zones where a lot of people do but I feel like the number of people that have jumped out of an airplane versus the number of people that have ever been in a sensory deprivation tank is really really skewed. It's such neat, unique experience and even unlike something where there is an element of physical danger and more of a panic response like jumping out of an airplane. Essentially a flotation tank is really accessible to everybody - young, old, healthy, sick. I'm kind of surprised that it's not more of a popular thing. **Crash:** Well we've been trying to build the cart before we put the horses out there. *(laughs)* I think we now have a rig that is respectable and we can put it into circulation now. They're being used. They are credible and they're ready to go. **Jesse:** You're located in Venice Beach, California which is sort of like a well known head-shop place. How much psychedelics use is part of the flotation lab culture? Is it a major part or is it a minor part? Obviously there are some but like how much are you catering to people that are not only going into their own head by taking away all the distractions but are also dosing themselves with something before they get in there? **Crash:** Well you know we are the military on that one. We are - "don't ask don't tell." That's the way we do it. You know I'm sure like I said there are people that have done things in there but the majority of people of people I think have used that by itself. The parking guy said you know, "Lot of these cars smell like weed that pull in here." *(laughs)* You're certainly probably wouldn't be the best place to get started on yourself, if that was where you were showing up, is that down in there doing something freaky. We certainly don't encourage that's for sure. You see we hate to be included in somebody's negative vibe because they had negative vibes about something else. So it's kind of like standing on your own two feet and you're willing to say, "Listen man, we're not really on anybody's side at all. We're just trying to hand something off here that you could use for you how you feel best about it." **Voice-over:** *Smart Drugs Smarts.* **Jesse:** So thank you very much to Crash for spending that time talking with us about the strange and interesting world f sensory deprivation tanks. I've done this couple of times now. So a couple of pieces of advice from me based on my 2 experiences in sensory deprivation tanks. The first time I did it, I actually rode my bicycle. It was a Sunday morning, as I remember it. I probably rode about 10 - 12 miles across Los Angeles before winding up at the beach where Crash has his facility. And so by the time I got there I was physically tired because I'd just done a pretty good tired. But it was also first thing in the morning , probably 10 o' clock after a full night's sleep, so I was very cognitively awake. Which was I think kind of by sheer accident the perfect way to do it. Because my body was tired, my brain was awake. I had a 2 hour session. I was fully awake the entire time and my brain had a lot of energy to take advantage of the weird situation that I was in. The second time that I did it, I did it much later in the day and I fell asleep for probably half the time that I was in there. Again one of the weird things about this is that there's no way of knowing what time it is. You're subjective sense of the passage of time gets really screwed up. So you don't know how much of the time you're awake and how much of the time you're asleep, when something like that happens. Anyway but I fell asleep the second time. I'm sure I got really great, restful sleep because it's a super sleep inducing sort of environment but on the other hand not as much cognitive bang for the buck. So I guess what I want to underscore is just what a strange state your brain get's into when it's got nothing but sort of a an unlimited amount of free time and nothing to entertain it but itself. So you can sort of lapse into memory and think about things, revisit experiences. But inevitably you kind of wind up thinking about, "Well okay, what's an important thing that I should do next in my life?" Either in the near-term like the next couple of days or big picture stuff. Like what do I want the next 3 - 5 years to be like. You see you start kind of making all these lists, like to-do lists. But of course you can't write anything down. But I remember I sort of started visualizing like okay, "This thing on the list, that thing on the list." Because your brain is so starved of any sensory input, you're sort of visualizing like typing this into one of your note taking programs on your computer or writing it on a piece of scratch paper. And these hallucinations become very very convincing and it is so easy after a while to forget that they are just mental constructions. They're just hallucinations. And I kind of remember coming to and having an epiphany like, "Wait a minute!" All these notes that I've been taking aren't physical notes and if I don't actually remember with some sort of mnemonic device, all these good ideas are going to be gone. And I feel like after I've been in there for a long long time with nothing but my thoughts, I had a lot of good ideas. But then the problem was how do I store these things to collect them later. I started thinking about how ineffectual it would be to be a point of consciousness without the ability intersect with the physical universe and actually have sort of a physical substrate for the ideas that you as a consciousness are able to create. I started thinking of how this how it would feel like to be a ghost or a spirit or something like that. You can have all these thoughts and awareness and epiphanies and reflection but no ability to directly impact the physical world. So really kind of psychedelic head trip kind of stuff but what's interesting about the sensory deprivation tank experience is that you can get your brain in to one of these very strange states completely naturally. And I just think that it's such an interesting opportunity that anybody who hasn't tried one of these things I would highly encourage it. But enough of my philosophical musings, now let's get to the Ruthless Listener Retention Gimmick. **Voice-over:** *Smart Drug Smarts - Ruthless Listener Retention Gimmick!!!* **Jesse:** Okay, so if you've ever had a long distance flight longitudinally, going more than a couple of time-zones or more than a couple of hours in either direction. Losing time, gaining time. You've probably experienced jet lag - the uncomfortable feeling that your body is just not really in sync with when is it getting dark, when it is getting light. You're waking up at 2 o'clock in the morning but you're drowsy by 10 o'clock in the morning. Whatever it is. Nobody likes jet lag but it's been a problem that we haven't been able to shake since we started doing air travel. So in an effort to save us from future jet lags scientists once again took some mice and altered their DNA to start screwing with them. So first of all let's think about how your body actually keeps circadian rhythms. There are 2 inter-locking systems that go on. One is that every single cell in your body, not all of them but almost all of them have sort of a method of keeping time themselves. There's a particular protein that's made that degrades over the course of about 24 hours. But while it exists it prevents the expression of the piece of DNA that caused it to be created in the first place. So basically it's created and it keeps more copies of itself from being created until it's worn out it's usefulness within the cell, has degraded to nothing and then another copy of it springs into existence. And this sort of creation, degradation, destruction; creation, degradation, destruction; creation, degradation, destruction cycle is how each cell keeps it's time. That happens almost on a 24 hour cycle but of course these cells aren't perfect so they kind of need like a master clock to keep them all knowing if they've gotten a little bit fast, little bit slow. The master clock within the body is something called the suprachiasmatic nucleus, which is a part of the hypothalamus within the brain, that actually get's direct input from the eyes telling it, "Hey, when we look around at the world out there, are we seeing daylight or are we not." So the suprachiasmatic nucleus is about 10,000 neurons packet in the brain. These are networked cells. There are all kind of comparing notes with one another constantly. Receiving information from the outside world and giving sort of a master drum beat that the individual metronomes within each of the cells can perk up their little cellular ears for and stay in tune with this master clock. Problem is that this networked suprachiasmatic nucleus has a lot of sort of inertia to it and when you all of a sudden put yourself in a different timezone where the sunlight's coming at different times of the day. This biochemical inertia takes a long time, sometimes about 8 days to fully reset itself to the new time. So these clever scientists created these mice that have a missing vasopressin receptor. Vasopressin is a hormone within the body and the brain that does a lot of different things. One thing it does is sort of regulate water levels. Tells you things like when you need to pee, when you don't need to pee and controls just watery your blood is able to get. Also has something to do with the laying down of memories in the hippocampus. But apropos to this discussion it has also something to do with the way that the cells within the suprachiasmatic nucleus exchange information about what their collective drum beat should be. And so by disrupting the brains ability to receive vasopressin in the neurons the suprachiasmatic nucleus is not really able to do it's job as a functional group of 10,000 inter-locked neurons. They are more like the neurons in the rest of your body that kind of keep their own time although they're also receiving input from the sun. So these mice that were the brethren in the study that were normal took about 8 days to handle a major change in day night cycles to simulate jet lag. Whereas the mutant mice with no vasopressin receptors took half that time. So literally 4 days instead of 8 to fully reset and get completely on the new cycle. Does this mean that frequent travelers want to mess up their own ability to process at least temporarily vasopressins so that they can more quickly get over the jet lag hump? Probably a bit premature to say that. As we said vasopressin has a lot of different things that it controls within the body and it might not be worth messing up your blood chemistry or how frequently you need to run to the bathroom, just to get over jet lag a few days faster. But it's a really interesting finding and I thought that the article was interesting. Just because I had no understanding earlier of how the circadian rhythms within the body are actually kept. Knowing that there's sort of this micro level clock within each of the cells and then there's overall master level clock within the brain, is one of those things that makes you just sort of stand back in awe of science and evolution and say, "Wow!" It also makes me wonder, and I don't have the answer to this - if anybody knows, I'd love to hear the answer. I was really interested to hear that it's the visual stimuli of sunlight that sort of guides this master clock the suprachiasmatic nucleus, and it made me wonder about people that are fully blind and have no visual input whatsoever. How do they handle jet lag? Or is that a secret boon to being a blind person, that you can get over jet lag quickly? I don't know the answer to that but I would love to know the answer to that. **Voice-over:** *Smart Drug Smarts - The podcast so smart, we have smart in our title, twice!!* **Jesse:** Okay, that is the episode. If you like what you heard please recommend this podcast to your friends and or leave us a review on iTunes. The next episode will be the super exciting, at least to me, episode number 50. Not exactly sure what it's going to be yet but it's going to be awesome. The show notes for this episode will be online at [www.smartdrugsmarts.com](http:/smartdrugsmarts.com//) including links to everything that we talked about here. I'm also happy to announce that as of today Wednesday, October 22nd, the new version of the Axon app - the companion app to Smart Drugs Smart is now available on the iTunes store for download if you're an Apple user. We're about to come out with a native iPad version, that will be the next version. Currently it's just kind of the stupid scaled up stuff on iPad but looks very nice on an iPhone. This latest version has a variable speed playback of the podcast. So if you want to hear Smart Drug Smarts slightly sped up, you're now welcome to do that. I'm sure that my dad will say no because my dad always tells me that I talk too fast, so the last thing he wants to do is hear me talking 1.5 times as fast, but the rest of you now have that option. I will be back at you next week, same time same podcast and with the same unflagging commitment to helping you fine tune the performance of your own brain. Have a great week and stay smart. **Announcer:** *You've been listening to the Smart Drugs Smart podcast. Visit us online at [www.smartdrugsmarts.com](http:/smartdrugsmarts.com//) and subscribe to our mailing list to keep your neurons buzzing with the latest in brain optimizatibut of course these cells on.* **Disclaimer:** *Smart Drug Smarts should be listened to for entertainment purposes only. Although some guests on the show are medical doctors, most are not and the host is just some random guy. Nothing you hear on the podcast or read on [www.smartdrugsmarts.com](http:/smartdrugsmarts.com//) should be considered medical advice. Consult your doctor, and use some damn common sense before doing anything that you think might have a lasting impact on your brain.*
Written by Rhiannan Roe
Rhiannan Roe is a writer, editor and unapologetic champion of self-improvement. Combining her passions has led to her helping several start-ups across three continents. In her spare time she travels, collects stories from inspiring people, and fruitlessly endeavors to read every book ever written.
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