I grew up in the stoner culture of the early 1970s when, if a little was good, more must be better. That attitude was extended to psychedelics and that was not a great idea. And it led to laws that crippled important research for forty years.
These substances are powerful tools, not toys
We were kids back then, bored adolescents. We were seeking adventures to relieve that boredom. So we tripped, among many other things. But now, many years and lifetimes later, out of a few dozen psychedelic experiences, I only really remember one, the first time.
The reality we are learning now, through years of research being put on legal hold, then miraculously revived recently, is that these substances are incredibly powerful tools for change. And like all powerful tools, they require respect and discipline.
They can amplify negative experience
The reality is that without a disciplined approach to a psychotropic experience a lot can go wrong. They can act as a kind of hyper-focused therapy, surfacing long buried trauma and pain. This ability to help people access these events is the inherent value researchers are discovering as they apply scientific methods to learning how psychedelics can be used as rapid treatments to depression, PTSD, to help terminal patients face and cope with death, and the potential to treat various kinds of addiction.
They are extremely powerful potential change agents and should be treated as such.
There is no escape once you’ve committed
Anyone who has taken a pure form and adequate dose of something like LSD or psilocybin knows that it is a commitment. You’re in for the full ride and it can last a long time, or seem to. There is no undoing your decision in most cases.
It’s not unusual for the experience to begin with fear. After all, these are worlds of perception that are entirely new for most of us, especially in the Western world. But with a well planned experience and an experienced guide, you can work your way through these fears.
The important thing is to clearly understand and make a commitment to the experience. If you cannot, you may need to work with a guide to determine if you are in good shape to reap the benefits, rather than any potential trauma.
You can’t rewire your neural pathways over and over
There is growing evidence that psychedelics are capable of rapidly rerouting neural pathways, often after one experience. Many of the issues being treated are the result, in part, of existing pathways losing flexibility, and a person losing their inherent coping mechanisms as a result. We get stuck in a loop based on past experience.
Rewriting these pathways can radically reset those mechanisms, offering us new ways of viewing and working with issues. But there is evidence that these processes can be less effective when repeated too frequently. The new becomes the old and you have simply installed a new loop.
‘Set and setting’ require planning
Even in the 1960s, when psychedelic research was in its heyday, they were discovering the importance of your mindset going into the experience (set) and the environment you were in (setting). Unfortunately taking these substances in a clinical environment was not the ideal set and setting.
It was after they got out into the wild and hippy culture started playing with them that set and setting began to be understood. ‘Avoid bad vibes, man!’ But the counterculture posed a threat to the established view and everything associated with it became suspect. As a result psychedelics became considered some of the most dangerous threats to society. Research slammed to a halt and we lost forty years.
Now, the counterculture approach has been mined for its best elements, including experienced guides and set and setting. These have made their way into clinical studies and materially helped improve the effectiveness as treatments.
The effects fade after a certain number of experiences
One of the reasons I walked away from my recreational use of LSD and other drugs was that it got boring and predictable, not to mention dangerous. The sources were not reliable and, being illegal, risky. Like many good things, a little is great, a lot is just a destructive habit.
There was a reason for elaborate native rituals
Many of these substances were ‘discovered’ in native societies around the planet, where they had been in use for thousands of years. Over that great span of time, rituals were put in place that including set and setting, guides, and elaborate preparations that were a way of controlling dosage in lieu of a lab. Their experience was their lab process.
When they hit as recreational drugs in the sixties, most of these disciplines were unknown except to a few anthropologists and explorers. The respect for these substances in indigenous cultures was high with them being treated as living things that accessed power. Now, modern research is starting to understand the value of that ancient discipline.
It can take a long term to understand how deeply they affect us
As I’ve written about earlier, my first acid trip is still fresh in my mind and I have always felt that its effects were long term and life-changing. Yet, I also feel that I squandered some of that power by playing with them over the years instead of respecting them as they deserve.
But honestly, me and my friends were kids. We are not, by any measurement, anymore, and most of us understand now what a drastic thing it can be to jump into those new worlds. We were protected by our innocence, up to a point.
Show respect and they can show you a new world
We have been fortunate enough to see the political and scientific world beginning to see these substances as a next wave of therapies. On top of therapeutic research, there is also awareness that these can be tools for learning more about human potential. It’s exciting to see this come full circle in a more mature environment.