Thinking About The Psychedelic Experience

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Throughout history, cultures have exploited the beneficial, entheogenic and psychotherapeutic effects of plants; from indigenous shamanic healing to western psychotherapy, and more recently, the exploration of sub-perceptual doses for improving normal functioning and creative problem solving. Despite governments hindering research, journals no longer accepting articles, and funding drying up, culture is gently easing toward greater openness and increased availability of information, which is likely to be responsible for the recent upsurge in research. Contemporary researchers are striving to penetrate through barricades of myths and misinformation perpetuated by propaganda, which has significantly impacted scientific, clinical, public and government perceptions of hallucinogens. Pioneering delayed research, which was ground to a halt in 1966, researchers are investigating the potential uses including hallucinogen assisted psychotherapy for alleviating post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and eliminating addictive behaviours.

Before painting a pristine picture of psychoactive substances it must be stated that venturing down the rabbit hole is not for everyone, and real, long-lasting harm can and does occur. Initial LSD experimentation indicated the possibility of it causing a transient psychosis; demonstrated well by an abominable study conducted by Dr Lax*, where [s]he coerced a patient into frequently taking large doses alone, with no medical supervision or follow-up care. This level of negligence inevitably led the patient to mind-body dissociation and the experience of recurrent flashbacks. Emphasis must therefore be placed on the importance of set and setting. Diligence is imperative when determining the context in which one embarks upon a voyage into one’s own mind, as the journey is largely shaped by mind-set, intention and social surroundings. This can be enabled by a well-administered psychotherapeutic program, guided by a mental health professional to help a patient resolve embedded psychological distress, facilitate new insights, and catalyse significant episodes of healing and integration.

Besides the perpetuated narrative that hallucinogens cause acute and long-term adverse reactions, a series of other, now dispelled, myths circulated. These included potential chromosome damage, birth defects and the adulteration of LSD with methamphetamine, PCP and strychnine. Winning by a landslide however, is the tale of acid tabs marketed at young children as transfer-tattoos. This plethora of propaganda ultimately led to criminalisation and termination of all civilian LSD research. Over the past fifty years, neither criminal penalty nor blatant misinformation has deterred the avid explorer from experimentation; a detail which has evidently been ignored by legislators of the recent psychoactive substances bill, a detrimental action which is likely to hinder significant research that could reduce misuse and enhance known benefits.

“What we ordinarily call “reality” is merely that slice of total fact which our biological equipment, our linguistic heritage and our social conventions of thought and feeling make it possible for us to apprehend… LSD permit(s) us to cut another kind of slice” – Aldous Huxley, Moksha

As Aldous Huxley posited, we are inherently restricted to our limited senses and bound by the interpretation of a neural network that cannot directly comprehend the complexity of the universe. Although psychedelics cannot present the full picture, they can remove certain perceptual filters to allow us an alternative perspective, momentarily. An increased sense of intrinsic unity is induced; a feeling of interconnectedness which entwines all life and inanimate physical matter, filling your being with euphoric elation, accompanied by a profound feeling of familiarity.

The disrupted connection between our species and nature is becoming ever more apparent. The harmony that originally existed is drifting rapidly, as we lose our understanding of the interdependence of nature. The past century has borne witness to an acceleration of intra-species division, but simultaneously birthed quantum physics discoveries which demonstrate the fundamental unity of the universe. Whether it is through understanding of the science, experiencing through entheogens, or simply attuning to that innate internal instinct, it is essential that we reconnect with nature for the betterment of humanity.

“This is how a human being can change: there’s a worm addicted to eating grape leaves. Suddenly. He wakes up, call it grace, whatever, something wakes him, and he’s no longer a worm. He’s the entire vineyard, and the orchard too, the fruit, the trunks, a growing wisdom and joy that doesn’t need to devour.” – Rumi, “The Worm’s Waking”

*Real name removed to protect the identity of the physician

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