The Psychedelic Experience: How to Turn the World Inside-Out
We are at the end of one era, poised at the precipice of the next. Our goal is to cross this gap between the ages and build a bridge into the unknown greatness that awaits us in the next phase of evolution. The world is on fire with an existential crisis seen in energy, public health, population, the environment, the monetary system, government and religion - as what were once cultural norms no longer hold up to the test of our collective awareness.
Perhaps you could chalk it up to the fact that for as far back as we can remember, every few generations, something shakes up our world in a big way - thumbs, language, fire, the wheel, agriculture, writing, money, boats, the book, airplanes, and the internet. Oh the times they are a changin’. To say that our time is more different because more is changing faster than ever before may be true, but in addition, looking forward, no one knows exactly what’s in store for future generations for whom we shall be the ancestors. What’s for sure, right now, is that in the midst of this state of the world, we’re all sitting around the dinner table wondering where to go next…
Let’s explore psychedelics - the common name given to a narrow class of plants, fungi, and synthetic molecules that induce visionary transcendental experiences which mimic states of religious ecstasy. Humans have ingested psychedelic substances since prehistoric times. The word psychedelic comes from the Greek roots psyche, mind and delia, change - meaning something that causes a shift in the way you see and behave in the world. Any profound experience of joy, loss, and near-death can be psychedelic. Even music, nature, breathing and movement have a psychedelic element. In recent years, psychedelics have become a crown jewel of mystique in the Western world due to their associated sociopolitical upheaval and the simultaneous rediscovery of ancient psychedelic traditions.
Recently, and with incredible legal effort, universities have been studying psilocybin (the active ingredient in magic mushrooms) for mental health including depression, OCD, anxiety, PTSD and fear of death, which are related to the neurotransmitter serotonin (90% of which is produced in the gut, and then sent to the brain via the bloodstream). People who have taken part in these early studies consistently report that taking mushrooms is one of their top five most significant life experiences along with giving birth. Never has an entire field of research been so suppressed as taboo for study in the scientific community, as with psychedelics - which were all legal and used in therapy before the psychedelic 1960s.
I have a hunch that there is an underlying mechanism yet to be discovered in all serotonergic psychedelics (aka tryptamines or indole alkaloids) including LSD (acid), psilocybin (mushrooms), DMT (ayahuasca) and mescaline (peyote) that resets the nervous system's ability to communicate with the digestive enzymes to release the proper amount of serotonin - a process that is so easily disrupted by the food, pharmaceuticals, technology and pace of life rampant in the West.
One can be certain that psychedelic therapy can be more effective than taking daily anti-depressants, often only requiring a one-time experience (or perhaps a few follow-ups every 6 months) to resolve a condition. So it's a lot cheaper than most current therapies! On that note, even turmeric has been shown to be as effective as anti-depressants.
Aside from LSD, the serotonergic psychedelics mushrooms, ayahuasca, and peyote have all been used in indigenous medicine and visionary ceremonies for centuries - and may also have been part of the first cults of prehistoric (even pre-lingual) humans that eventually led to religions in Asia, Africa, and the Americas. In fact, the Western world (starting in Europe) is one of the few places where these plants were not used for centuries in cultural rites.
As an aside, the active ingredient DMT in the Amazon medicine ayahuasca is known as the "spirit molecule" which is always present in all living things and released in humans during dreaming, birth and death. No wonder the indigenous are running around half-naked in the forest without iPhones, ayahuasca offers a spiritual TV that is a direct link to Mother Earth, the ancestors and the wisdom of the plants and animals.
Now combined with the lens of science, traditional shamanism and the desperate need for connection to one another and the urgent state of the planet, government and economy, we are at the ultimate turning point where Nature's strongest medicines play a vital role in our survival and revolution in thinking. Normally, what makes a medicine is the dose, in this case however it’s more about context. They may be "drugs" if you choose to call them that, even though highly non-toxic and non-addictive. More accurately you can consider them "windows to the soul." There are government-sanctioned "churches" allowing for the sacramental use of psychedelics (especially for cannabis, ayahuasca and peyote). For now, mushrooms are mostly studied in the light of psychotherapy.
The most important thing is to remember how to use psychedelics (set - mindset, and setting - environment) and that decriminalization does not necessarily mean people will be educated on the historical context, potential for healing, and personal/cultural evolution. (Same goes for weed.) Inventors and scientists such as Crick who uncovered the DNA molecule, Apple and Google founders along with Buddhist meditators and yoga practitioners have said that psychedelic experiences have been formative to their discoveries and way of life. That said, if you meditate long enough, you can maintain the same cosmic consciousness that psychedelics provide a brief preview of. There are stories of yogis and Zen monks eating very high doses of acid as an experiment and saying "I feel normal, do you have anything stronger?" and "This is what my experience is always like."
There are millions of people who already take psychedelics, some have better results than others, based largely on the pretenses with which they take them and the support they receive in integrating their experiences/insights into a new routine and approach to daily life. It can be scary at first. Your ego can be temporarily stripped away (including all of your likes, dislikes, identifications with your body, job, roles in life, and memories of who you are in the world), leaving nothing but your core essence and as you settle, a sense of eternal peace, and then it is up to you to rebuild a life that honors that. Clearly, in the case of the indigenous, when psychedelics are already an integral part of your culture, you are set up for positive results. People can confront repressed neurotic psychological states and trauma revealed by psychedelics (and reset/healed in the right setting - often over a longer period of time in the "integration" period). The saying "at worst you stay the same, at best you change for the better" is a powerful way to see this trait.
Psychedelics must be approached with the utmost caution and respect. It's not for everyone. However, they can profoundly shift your worldview towards compassion and common sense in the right context - it doesn't have to be in a church, with a therapist or university study - groups of friends and even formal psychedelic communities can offer those opportunities. Most importantly, having a guide you can talk to before, during and after (or at least a calm person you trust by your side) is more or less imperative for beginners.
Overall, decriminalization is a step in the right direction toward something much bigger. In the land where cash is king, the sooner we recognize the self-evident truth that the economy is supported by the environment and not the other way around, the sooner life gets better - we stop fighting, reduce pollution, restore ecosystems, solve the energy crisis, get smart and healthy.
The final frontier is just as much inner space as it is outer space. We can only expand to the stars with an expanded understanding of ourselves beyond mere bodies, but eternal spiritual beings that manifest reality through thoughts and attention. Technology will not solve our problems outright, we require an evolution in consciousness that's based on a nuanced understanding and mapping of the networks of our interconnectedness. Psychedelics can remind you not just to connect with the environment, but that the environment is in you, on a spiritual level, in your DNA and directly with the air you breathe, water you drink, and food you eat.
We are experiencing a fundamental overhaul of our society's military-industrial-capitalist-patriarchal-consumer-individualist beliefs that uphold the systems which lead to the unnecessary suffering of countless lives - replaced by the largest collective reorganization of human resources in history. But we don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, all people are still essential, it’s our thinking habits that need to change. Teamwork makes the dream work. We are moving towards a relationship-based economy based on the ideals of ecology and compassion because it is the best option and in the long-run, it is the only option. It only starts with a few, are you ready?
About Peter Fettis
As a Registered Yoga Teacher and and Certified Personal Trainer, Peter practices optimizing human potential as a way of life. His latest book How to Eat Well and Love Yourself dives into the practical principles of mindfulness and plant-based nutrition to give you a taste of the abundant harvest from the mind's inner garden of awareness. Peter’s vision with FlowPrana is to make waves in the current culture by rallying the wider public to recognize their inner healing power using a proactive, gentle approach.