The False Dichotomy of Psychedelic Support

Every day it seems the momentum behind the psychedelic movement grows and becomes more serious. I’m overjoyed to know that the mental health community is finally beginning to incorporate these plant medicines into their practices. However, I am getting uneasy at the tone that pervades this new promotion. I’ve heard talk of corporations already working on ways to alter, commodify, and monetize these ancient spiritual experiences. More and more professionals are professing that while these substances are therapeutic and medicinal, they are not to be taken without the guidance and support of some authoritative entity.

I understand that traditionally, the tribes and peoples that have used plant medicine as part of their culture did so under the supervision of a shaman, elder, or guide of some kind. Even so, I think it is a grave mistake for this to be preached as the only way one can benefit from these natural substances. My experience with LSD has given me a completely different perspective on psychedelics than what I am now seeing in the mainstream explanations. I honestly find it very elitist and offensive to have it assumed some person of authority must facilitate this divine communion with nature and with ourselves.

Psychedelics, in my opinion, speak for themselves. No one has to guide me in my journey. I feel deeply that part of that journey is learning to be your own guide. The psychoactive substances themselves are the teacher. There is certainly nothing wrong with eliciting the help of a mental health professional or a shaman (given there is some meaning behind that word, and it isn’t just a self proclamation of some egotistical white man) especially if that relieves your fears or gives you a feeling of comfort and safety. I just feel there is something dangerous in professing that it is a requirement in order to use psychedelics safely and receive their healing benefits. There are hundreds of thousands of people, like myself, that would never have a psychedelic experience if we were to believe this interpretation. Requiring this particular, clinical set and setting leaves the realm of psychedelic experiences to only a small, financially elevated subset of individuals that have the ability to pay for these services and/or travel to where they are available.

I’ve taken LSD a handful of times now, never with any clear set intention or professional guide, and still, it has been an utterly transcendent and transformational experience. You don’t have to go looking for answers and healing when you ingest these plant medicines, they will break upon you of their own volition like rays of sunlight cresting the horizon. It is inevitable. There is such a thing as “play therapy” and this is the vein in which I see psychedelic therapy. I believe it is a grave mistake to tarnish this innocent and natural experience with the heavy weight of “serious spiritual work.”

I don’t understand why everything I read or listen to about psychedelics seems to put “fun trips” and “spiritual awakenings” into separate and opposite camps. Why must they be mutually exclusive? My trips have all been silly, playful, and lighthearted, while simultaneously being the most poignant spiritual experiences I’ve ever had. Why must spirituality be cold, clinical, and serious? Can’t we have fun while we heal? I certainly believe we can and that it is a central part of the healing experience.

One of the big problems with society and humanity today is that we take ourselves too seriously. LSD has been an opportunity for me to let go of that stuffy, self-importance and existential gravitas. It reminds me how to open myself to the silly, the absurd, the curiosity, the awe of this life. It’s a lesson in acceptance, simple pleasure, childlike wonder, and ecstatic, undefinable joy. I don’t believe we should isolate ourselves in a room and try to force the direction and scope of our psychedelic voyages. We must give ourselves space to explore, to discover, to follow the experience wherever it chooses to take us.

I have nothing against the therapeutic or ritualistic uses of plant medicine. I just feel uneasy about this camp’s insistence that these settings are the only appropriate or beneficial ways to utilize psychedelics. Plant medicines are a gift from mother Earth. They should be equally accessible to all of us, regardless of where we live or if we have the money/connections to purchase a “guide.” The setting up of an atmosphere or gatekeeping is something we should be extremely wary of. Always be safe, do your own research, and take precautions, but don’t allow anyone to tell you that you must go through them to obtain Earth’s most potent and healing medicine.

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In Praise of Timothy Leary

50 Timothy Leary Quotes That Will Leave You Tripping | Everyday Power

I know I have really been harping on LSD and psychedelics recently, so I apologize. However, I have been a bit obsessed from reading How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan. I just finished the book yesterday actually. Overall, it was an incredible read. I learned so much, from anecdotal testimony to scientific data to the history of psychedelics politically and culturally. There was one part of the book that rubbed me the wrong way though. The author as well as a lot of the other scientists and researchers he interviewed seemed to be very critical and hostile toward a man who was a pivotal part of the psychedelic movement, Timothy Leary.

Leary is probably one of the most recognized names when it comes to the topic of psychedelics and LSD in particular. I had expected the book to mention him, but was surprised to find harsh judgement rather than admiration and praise. The first I heard of Leary was from the documentary on Netflix called Orange Sunshine. In this documentary I learned about Leary’s role in distributing LSD throughout the country during the 60’s and 70’s. He even went to prison for this valiant effort. (He did escape, but that’s another story.) Based on this, my impression of him was exceptionally positive. To be honest, he was a hero to me. It still nearly brings me to tears when I think about how grateful I am for his efforts to share this incredible drug with the world.

Yet, in Pollan’s book, Leary is primarily vilified for the very acts which led me to hold him in such high regard. It seems a lot of the scientific community largely blame Leary for psychedelic research being restricted. There were a lot of people saying that he was an egomaniac, a publicity hound, etc. They saw him as a narcissist who blew up the legitimate case for psychedelic use with his antics and insistence that everyone deserved to try it.

I was frustrated anytime he was criticized in the book. I can’t say whether or not he was full of himself. Maybe he was. But I don’t think that changes the fact that what he did was, in my opinion, a great gift to society. I doubt I would have ever been able to experience LSD if not for his efforts to get it out of the lab and into the streets. I’m so grateful for the brave proponents of recreational psychedelic use. Even though these substances have a clear medical benefit for a lot of people, I don’t think we should limit it to only clinical settings. Primarily because this is a free country and as one of the people quoted in the book says, “it’s safer than alcohol!” Not only are psychedelics harmless for the majority of the population, they are beneficial for healthy people as well as sick people. I truly believe we have a right as human beings to experience these altered states of consciousness. We have a right to explore our own minds, especially if we aren’t hurting anyone including ourselves.

Finally, toward the end of the book, the disdainful tone toward Leary shifts a bit. There are still plenty of people that respect and admire his contributions to the psychedelic movement. Obviously there was a good chance the government would have restricted psychedelic use and research without Leary’s involvement. After all, psychedelics are a huge threat to capitalism and the blind obedience to authority that supports it. Caffeine and nicotine are drugs too, lest we forget. These are legal and widely accepted as part of a normal day though, because they have a positive effect on productivity and work performance. We’re made to believe laws are made to keep us safe, but more often they are made to keep us in line.

In the last chapter, a few people are willing to concede that if not for Leary, perhaps there wouldn’t be a resurgence and second wave of psychedelic studies. It’s interesting to note that the legal progress that has been made is thanks to the generation who were able to experience the drug for themselves in their youth. You’re more likely to see the potential of these drugs if you have personal knowledge of their effects. A large portion of the recreational experiences of the generation that is now in political power was likely thanks to Leary.

Despite all the people in the psychedelic community who turn their noses up at Timothy Leary, he is still a heroic figure in my opinion. He risked everything, his career, his credentials, his reputation, and his freedom in order to “turn on the world” as he likes to put it. I am certain that I have him to thank for the transcendence I have been able to experience through LSD. I am eternally grateful for what this man has done for, not only me personally, but for the whole world.

When the LSD King Timothy Leary Hid in Africa with the Black Panthers

Lessons in LSD

On Labor Day, after spending the morning hiking through beautiful new woodland areas and visiting my grandmother, my boyfriend and I decided to spend the last several hours of his visit on acid. I’ve been so eager to have another trip since I’ve been reading about psychedelics for the past few weeks. This time I was determined to take at least as much as I did on my first trip, which was five hits. A lot of the experiences described in the psychedelic studies were due to high doses of the drugs, likely much higher than even what is contained in those five tabs. As summer was beginning to wane, I felt long overdue for a spiritual, transcendent experience. And I was so happy to have my beloved there by my side.

I am always surprised by just how natural the effects of LSD feel. It feels like coming home. It feels far more real than my sober reality ever could. It feels like waking up, cradled in the arms of mother earth, of the universe. Never has the mantra “everything is as it should be” felt so true. Static electricity seems to fill the air, connecting me to everything, supporting me, energizing me.

We spent the first moments of our trip gently stretching on our yoga mats in the sunlit grass. Every sensation seemed amplified and completely new. What a joy to move this miraculous body! How good it feels to explore myself as if for the first time. Every breath was orgasmic. Crisp clean air, expanding my lungs, flooding my blood, my brain, with oxygen. So simple, so satisfying. I doubt I stopped smiling for even a second.

One of the first things I always notice when I trip is my habitual thought patterns. “What’s next?” I’m always asking myself. Planning the next moment, rather than enjoying the one that I’m in. Searching for satisfaction outside of myself instead of inside. There is no judgment muddying this self-reflection, only interest and amusement. How strange it is to not be able to see the perfection of the present while sober. It seems so obvious, so unavoidable on acid. Never has it been more clear that these feelings of ecstasy come from within, that I have the power of happiness inside me always, regardless of my external circumstances.

After reveling in and exploring our own bodies for awhile, we moved inside to explore and enjoy one another. I’ve always cringed at the phrase “making love,” but for the first time in my life, I truly felt that was what we were doing. There was no anxiety, no shame, no hesitation, no expectation, just pure presence, pure love. At times I truly lost myself. There was no separation between our bodies or our souls. As we laid silently in one another’s arms afterward, I felt that no words could accurately express what had just passed between us. Perfection is the only one that comes close. Thankfully, it also felt like no words were needed. I felt an overwhelming sense of peace, joy, and oneness with all the universe. My heart was overflowing with unconditional love for all of existence. It seemed as though we were only given distinct forms in order to experience the miracle of coming together again.

We spent the rest of the evening gathering tomatoes from my garden, making dinner, snuggling, laughing and watching YouTube. At one point we attempted to be creative. I was dying to write. Poetry seemed to be endlessly streaming through my head. However, when I put pen to paper, I couldn’t seem to find the right words. These realizations, the beauty of existence, these transcendental truths were so clear in my mind. Yet there were impossible to express accurately with mere words. Despite my best efforts, psychedelic experiences are largely inexpressible. At best they translate into platitudes and clich├ęs. So here’s a vague representation of what I always come away with:

  1. Everything is as it should be.
  2. Everything is a cycle, spiraling out endlessly into infinity.
  3. I have everything I need inside of myself.
  4. Love and laughter are all that matter.
  5. We are all one.

These are by no means new ideas. However, the psychedelic experience allows me to perceive and appreciate these truths in a deeper way. This appreciation and poignancy perseveres long after the effects of the drug wear off. I would liken it to splashing your face with water in the morning. It’s a splash of gratitude and energy for the soul. It’s a reminder of who we really are. A confirmation that all is well, that we are exactly where we should be.

Perhaps the most striking and fascinating of the lessons I’ve learned from acid are the idea that everything is a cycle. This can be frustrating, but also quite comforting. It truly gives me the gift of believing that death is not the final ending. There is no ending, only new beginnings. Psychedelics give us something that unfortunately we cannot share with one another through language. It is something, I believe, everyone should experience for themselves. It’s a remedy. It’s a revelation. It’s a rebirth.

Mind menders: how psychedelic drugs rebuild broken brains | New Scientist