"Man, I'll try just about anything, but I'd never in hell touch a pineal gland. "
--Dr. Gonzo, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
I've never really given my pineal gland much thought before I started writing this post. It is a small gland (about the size of a pea) located in the center of the brain. Being a gland, I always assumed that it secreted things. And I don't associate pleasant images with the word "secreted." It is right up there with "ooze." It conjures up images of slugs and poisonous toads "secreting" vile liquids.
The pineal gland's job, however, is to produce melatonin. The production of melatonin is inhibited by light and stimulated by darkness. Thus melatonin is apparently known as the "hormone of darkness." This would make the pineal gland the "Gland of Darkness" which would be a bitching name for a comic book anti-hero.
But I digress.
Near as scientists can figure, melatonin plays some role in our sleep patterns. You can take melatonin tablets to help control jet lag or other sleep deprivation problems. Anyway, the pineal gland works the night shift producing melatonin. It goes to work when the retina sends a signal that it is dark out.
It was only recently that scientists figured out what the pineal gland actually did. Brain surgeons apparently kept poking it with a needle and asking each other, "Hey, what does this thing do" for a long time before they figured out the melatonin angle. Before that, people like Rene Descartes thought the pineal gland was the "seat of the soul" (which would have ment our souls are the size of a pea). And to this day, some mideastern philosophies associate the penial gland with the elusive "sixth chakra" or "third eye."
Growing up, I would have associated having a third eye with being a Martian like one of my Aunt Gladys' kids. But on a more spiritual level, the third eye is how we focus on the spiritual world (i.e. elightenment and psychic visions). It has been speculated that, in addition to melatonin, the pineal gland may also cook up another substance known as dimethyltryptamine or DMT. DMT may be responsible for our dreams. Ingested in larger doses, it can cause hallucinations. I think the pineal gland makes and takes DMT to stay awake at night while it is making melatonin. This is just my theory.
Anyway, all of this makes me respect my pineal gland. It is a highly underrated gland that definitely doesn't get the press it deserves. I would suggest that before you go to sleep tonight, you stop and thank your pineal gland for regulating your sleep patterns with melatonin and urge it to knock itself out with the DMT production. Because such stuff are dreams made of.