My Return to Psychedelics
Psychedelics. Seems like suddenly everyone is talking about them, on social media, in books and magazines, articles and medical journals. Last year at the end of 2022, psilocybin mushrooms became legal in Colorado.
My earliest experience with psychedelics was in the 70’s. I was a teenager then—mushrooms, peyote, mescaline, and LSD were part of the drug culture. My friends and I were lost boys–wild, reckless, and dangerously naive without guidance, structure, or safety. Small wonder we survived that time.
I did not regard psychedelics as “plant medicine,” or as a tool. But there was something about the experience that I would only later characterize as transcendent or mystical. In those days, after tripping with my friends, I’d often go home to listen to ethereal music and write in my journal an outpouring of thoughts and emotions that had nowhere else to go. Psychedelics facilitated a deeper connection within myself that was both meaningful and hard to describe. Through psychedelics I found an early incarnation of my inner voice that would return decades later to lead me out of darkness and into light.
The death of a friend was the catalyst that sparked in me a search for the deeper meaning of life and death, and raised powerful questions about my existence. You can read more about that journey here….
Over the years, my appreciation for the wisdom and healing that come from plant medicine has deepened. Magic mushrooms opened my mind and led me into the heart of a spiritual awakening that transformed my life.
The Little People
Indigenous peoples in Mexico and Central America have used psychedelics as a sacrament in spiritual ceremonies and healing rituals for hundreds, even thousands of years. These native american hallucinogenic plants are considered sacred. They are believed to have the power to heal physical and emotional ailments and have been called the “flesh of the gods,” “body of the earth mother,” and are also referred to as “teachers” or “little people.”
Aboriginal cultures and indigenous communities around the world use psychoactive plants and have passed down their traditional knowledge of these plants, which includes certain preparation techniques, ritual practices, and guidelines for safe and respectful use. The list of hallucinogenic plants, herbs, flowers and fungi is long and detailed, and the chemistry is well understood. Synthetically manufactured mescaline, psilocybin and MDMA (Ecstasy) are currently being tested for therapeutic use in the United States, Canada, Europe, and South America.
In the U.S., clinical trials are underway at Johns Hopkins University, NYU Langone Medical, and UCLA. In Canada, the University of Toronto is leading clinical trials with psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms. In Europe, psychedelic research is being conducted in the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the UK. And in South America, in Brazil, Colombia, and Peru.
The list of stimulant plants includes coffee, tea, cocoa, guarana, kola nut, yerba mate, and ginseng, which are commonly recognized beverages consumed with the daily news. Natural psychedelic foods are foods that contain naturally occurring psychedelic properties, and these include nutmeg, blue lotus, and wild lettuce.
Today psychedelics are making a resurgent comeback. Michael Pollen’s bestselling book, How to Change Your Mind—What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence, is a well written account of the history, the science, and the promising new research of psychedelics. The book was turned into a three-part Netflix documentary. Pollan writes of his firsthand experience with psychedelics and his introduction to a thriving underground community of psychedelic therapists. He also launched the Center for the Science of Psychedelics at Berkeley.
Today, more and more people outside of underground circles are coming forward to share their experiences. Celebrities like Tony Robbins, Mike Tyson, Prince Harry and others are talking about how psychedelics helped them to deal with anxiety, anger, and grief. They speak openly about a heightened sense of spirituality, mystical experiences, and how they confronted their own demons and made peace with death.
The mystical aspect of plant medicine inspires a feeling of reverence and awe; a sense of unity, a connectedness to all things. Ego boundaries soften and with that comes a sense of inner peace. There’s a clarity that provides deeper insight and understanding into one’s personal issues and the world itself. The mystical experience is often difficult to put into words, but its aftereffects in life are real. Some of the people I’ve worked with have described it as feeling more connected, more trusting and in the flow, more calm in their thoughts, and more forgiving of others, including themselves. They describe the experience of feeling joy as distinct from just being happy.
Psychedelic-assisted therapy has been found to be effective in treating depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and PTSD. Studies have shown that the use of psychedelics can lead to increased creativity, openness to new experiences, a greater sense of well-being, and positive changes in attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors.
Going forward, the gatekeepers of access to psychedelics will likely be decided by a combination of medical professionals, researchers, and government regulators, and will have a significant role in determining who is eligible for such therapy. Many of the misconceptions about psychedelics, such as their use is dangerous, addictive and will cause long-term mental health problems, have been dispelled. While psychedelic use does carry some risks, these risks can be minimized by setting, support, and preparation.
In recent years, there has been a trend in mainstream culture towards a more positive view of psychedelics driven largely by the growing evidence and research demonstrating the therapeutic benefits of psychedelic use as a tool for self-exploration and personal growth.
In my personal experience, plant medicine is a catalyst for a journey into uncharted territory. Under the influence, I think of myself as a “psychonaut,” an explorer who navigates the outer reaches of inner space. Psychedelics expand consciousness by pulling back the curtain on the ordinary limitations of the mind and open the doors of perception. The expansion of awareness I’ve experienced yields deeper insights into my own psyche, the nature of reality, and a profound connection to my emotions.
I become more in touch with the divine within me and my sense of the sacred expands to include everyone and everything. The ego in me becomes temporarily disabled which allows memories of the past to come up for examination and healing. I call this being “out of my mind.”
Plant medicine dissolves the barriers to the awareness of who I truly am and helps me to see others as they truly are. Over the years I’ve made it a practice to ground my psychedelic experiences into everyday life through my work, relationships, and the communities to which I belong.
The practice of forgiveness, as a way of being and moving through the world, is one powerful outcome which has transformed my life and relationships in profound and tangible ways. Forgiveness and surrender are themes that have emerged again and again, both in my personal journey and in my work with others.
Before I began my work as a guide and transformational coach, I apprenticed myself to plant medicine, what I call “the teachers,” for 10 years, working alone, in silence. I experimented on myself, worked through my own shit, and bore the shattering of my ego on more than one occasion, each time being deeply changed by the experience.
It was the direct experience of the medicine working through me that I wanted, without external influence or interference. I worked outdoors, in every kind of weather, under an open sky, on the earth, at the fire’s edge. The elemental exposure intensified the experience–a primal feeling of wildness unbounded by the trappings of civilization and electronic interference.
For the first several years, I had little knowledge of the history of psychedelics–the research, indigenous use, or ceremonial practices. I learned what the medicine taught me and later corroborated my findings with the literature. Only later did I undertake a study of shamanism, psychedelic research, and my own indigenous roots.
In my work with clients, I bring the experience of having traversed the terrain and gone to those difficult places many times. Clarity of intent going into the psychedelic experience is especially important, not to control the process, but to cultivate the right mindset at the beginning of the journey. The setting must be safe psychologically and physically in order to engage in deep inner work without distraction or distress. The use of ceremony and ritual creates “sacred space,” which is a deeply spiritual way of engaging the intelligence of the plant medicine and is distinct from the sterile environment of a laboratory or clinic. There’s something else too that is rarely referred to in the literature: Love. The conscious awareness of love’s presence yields a level of emotional security that is beyond words. It’s a feeling of being safe, unencumbered, and free to dive deep. Without love the deepest work is out of reach. With love miraculous breakthroughs occur and anything is possible. To be held in such a space is a powerful and life altering experience. Sacred space is a space of transformation, transcendence, and healing.
Experience has taught me that support on the other side of the medicine journey is critical. Skilled guidance helps to integrate the experience into the context of one’s life in ways that are both meaningful and practical. Integration is an important process that anchors the memory of what happened during the journey and gives it substance and reality. I am right there to listen and hold space before, during and after the experience and facilitate a conversation that yields greater understanding. The results I’ve witnessed in others is a heightened sense of peace, moments of authentic joy, more smiles and laughter, and greater ease in daily life.
When plant medicine is used in a sacred way, with the help of an experienced guide, shaman, or therapist, psychedelics are a powerful tool for healing, personal growth, and transformation. It is a path with heart and a long way from being wild and reckless.
Love and Blessings,