Darika Sartmatova was just a young woman when she knew she was ready to take on the world by moving from her Central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan. Freshly out of high school, Sartmatova found herself enrolled in the University of Alabama at Birmingham studying with one major in Biology and two minors in Chemistry and Computer Science. I met her for a couple of drinks at a bar named Death & Co. in the historically black, vibrant and art focused district of Five-Points near downtown Denver. As we flipped through the menu of specialized drinks such as a whiskey drink called Black Poodle or the Mondrian tall glass of Tequila we notice one with a special ingredient, Absinthe. This leads us to laugh about all the theories and stories we've heard about the drink that causes hallucinations. The theoretical hallucinations we found ourselves gasping about lead us to her biggest dream — to treat physical and mental disorders with compounds such as CBD or LSD and yes, some of them may cause those very hallucinations we found amusing.
She explains to me her opinion on health care in the United States. She says the entire system only masks medical issues people may be facing because it’s a profit-driven industry with a focus on symptoms rather than prevention. Her goal is to steep herself in enough knowledge by taking the next step in her academic career. She wants to move up the latter of medical school, pursuing a career in holistic medicine that focuses on body, mind, and spirit. She tells me over cocktails that she has been doing research on psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy - the treatment of patients who may be suffering from PTSD, epilepsy or severe depression with substances like LSD, psilocybin mushrooms and even Cannabidiol (non-psychedelic) - and that we are experiencing a renaissance of psychedelic research. “Since the early 1950s, psychedelics have been successfully used in the treatment of depression, addiction, autism, and even end-of-life anxiety. Some of the most brilliant scientists were funded by the government to study the mechanisms behind the treatment. However, in the mid-’60s as cultural views on psychedelics shifted, these drugs became extremely stigmatized and most scientists have abandoned their research.” Sartmatova explains, with frustration, that the unfairness of anti-psychedelic political culture and the war on drugs mentality shifted the way we now think of these drugs. “Obviously if you aren't taking these substances correctly in a supervised clinical setting, then they can become an issue.” Once people started abusing this medication in a party setting, the medical industry basically got rid of the idea and notion that they could help people who were suffering greatly, until the idea was brought back with modern ideals structuring the concept.
She reminisces on her childhood and hometown and tells me she had the happiest childhood under the circumstances that came from living in a third world country. Playing with all the kids around her small town was part of the experience in the rugged, but progressive countryside of Kyrgyzstan. “We got to do what we wanted, there was a sense of community when I was a child.” She tells me that she got lucky to have had a childhood where she felt safe at all times — where she, her friends and cousins would play all day and night until she would hear her mother call her name signaling her curfew.
When asked about religion she mentions that she practiced Muslim traditions with her family, but as she grew up raised by scientists and doctors the world made more sense in terms of science rather than religion. “Whatever you may call it, God or energy, it's out there and it's real. Studying physics made me less skeptical about religion and I found a compromise in my spirituality.”
Something that has been draining Sartmatova crazy since early childhood was the question of where we will end up as species. “My favorite short story is by Isaac Asimov. It's called ‘The Last Question’ and it gave me the answer of how it started, how it all ends, who we are and where will we go.” She explains the story is about humanity's population growing at a rapid speed while depleting all natural resources and simultaneously becoming more and more dependent on a computer. “In the end, humans stop using their bodies and use their fused consciousness to live and communicate. When they ask the computer again, for the last time, ‘How may entropy be reversed?’ (which can be interpreted as ‘How may we prevent the death of the universe?’) the computer responds, ‘Let there be light.' So when all of us are fused together we become the light that God was talking about. In the end, we become God.” As she’s telling me about the sci-fi story I can’t help but notice the glow that transcends through her smile. She’s inspired by the untouched ideas of spirituality, connection, and medicine. The reason she has inspired so many around her because she has been able to tap into a way of looking at science, religion, and society that doesn't define but explores.
In ten years she tells me she will be working as a doctor helping everyone she can with all the issues they may have and hopes health care will be less of a business focused industry and shift itself on preventative medicine, as it was meant to be. She tells me about the knowledge she wants to obtain to make sure she can do her best for people who feel lost and for people who just need to be helped in ways that aren't being done by the average medical professional. As the night goes on and the drinks empty the energy she gives is pure friendship and warmth. We could only hope her the best in her growth as a woman who will soon take over the scientific medical world.