The Positives and Negatives of Psychedelics
When I first started to use psychedelics I was oblivious to what the experience was going to be. I had no idea how to interact with the experience and integrate it into my everyday life. On top of that, I also had a massive amount of pressures to expect “something” to happen, or see visions or talk to strange and bizarre creatures. Since then I have learned a great deal about psychedelics, myself, and the experience, both what is positive and what is negative.
This article isn’t about what is good and positive for you. It’s about my personal perception of how I see psychedelics and how I see the research and community around it. I don’t see psychedelics as a positive or negative thing, I see it as a tool that can be used in a very specific way to create very specific results. I don’t know you personally, what you consider bad, good, positive or negative, but I want to discuss some things that maybe you should think about if you choose to use psychedelics for yourself.
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All Psychedelics Are Not Equal
When it comes to psychedelics it’s important to understand that each substance changes our minds differently. All substances are not equal in experience and potency and the results from ingesting one substance over another can be vastly different, including visualizations, types of hallucinations, and so on. For instance, salvia divinorum which is a psychoactive plant when chewed or smoked can cause opened eyed hallucinations at low dosages while not inducing paralysis, while Ayahuasca on the other hand mostly induces closed eyed hallucinations and causes mild forms of paralysis. These two hallucinogens are vastly different in their chemical makeup and that would explain some of the differences, but in another example, we can see a similar compound can cause different effects.
DMT and 5-MeO-DMT are closely related in their chemical structure. DMT and 5-MeO-DMT both induce highly altered states but 5-MeO-DMT is considered to be much stronger and has vastly different effects. DMT is considered to be more visual whereas 5-MeO-DMT produces more emotional sensations. DMT and 5-MeO-DMT are both also classified as tryptamine drugs and in result affect the serotonin system in the body. Other drugs that also are classified as tryptamines are LSD and psilocybin which also affect the serotonin system. All of these substances are related but again can cause vastly different effects. It’s important to understand this concept when it comes to using psychoactive substances. Your experience on one may be vastly different than another and this could result is some fearful confrontations.
The Dosage of a Psychedelic Can Change Outcome
Dosage can cause different effects. If you are micro-dosing on psilocybin you will find that there is a limited effect that the compound is having on you. That is overall the point of micro-dosing, but there are still changes taking place. However, if you take five grams of the same compound you will have very profound experiences. Additionally, there are some people who simply don’t trip or at least don’t experience anything easily. Some people, on the other hand, can take use very little amounts of a compound and have very vivid and intense hallucinations.
Some hallucinogens are dangerous in low dosages (such as ibogaine and datura), and some are considered safe by many. Personally, I always err on the side of caution and treat every substance with respect and understand the negatives and positives and what my limits are. It’s for this reason that it is essential that you research about the substances that you are interested in trying, to make sure that you understand what it is you are going to use, and how it can affect you personally, not basing your expectations on others personal views alone.
Its always a good idea to start off small, not taking a “heroic dose” right away. There is nothing heroic about being careless and either killing yourself or having a traumatic experience that follows you the rest of your life. Treat these powerful substances with respect, and you will most likely have a much better experience.
The Positive and Negatives of Psychedelics Altered Thinking
If you ever have had the chance to use a hallucinogen, you will know that it changes your perception of reality. In Aldous Huxley’s book: The Doors of Perception, we get to read one of the greatest intellects of the first half of the twentieth century describe his personal experience while under the influence of mescaline. He describes the experience as opening the door to an alternate perception of reality.
“Each person is at each moment capable of remembering all that has ever happened to him and of perceiving everything that is happening everywhere in the universe.” ― Aldous Huxley, The Doors of Perception
This new perception allows us to problem solve and to think creatively in new and exciting ways which can be very beneficial and the reason that micro-dosing has become a new fad in the tech industry. Additionally, many psychological problems are being challenged with the use of psychedelics because they provide individuals alternative views to their lives, and allowing for those individuals to end cycles based thinking. Just like Huxley, we can feel connected to a wider universe and perceive some pretty profound sensations all at the same time.
Personally, psychedelics have had a significant impact on me by ending this cycle-like thinking. I used to have chronic depression for the majority of my life. I often reflect on why I was depressed, and many reasons come up, but what was the most significant impact for me of getting over depression was that psychedelics provided me with an alternative narrative to my life story, and offered me the ability to have compassion for myself and life. I still get down from time to time, but I no longer suffer from long-term depression.
My experiences, of course, do not mean that it will work for everyone else and I do not buy into the stock that psychedelics are a magic bullet that cures all ailments. In fact, it took me years of working with psychedelics to get to the point I am now, incorporating what I learned into my life, taking long breaks from the substances, and using dream work and meditation to make long-lasting changes. Not all my experiences with psychedelics have been positive either.
The “BAD” Trips
When I first took Ayahuasca, I had an enjoyable experience where I was shown my entire life being played out like a movie. I recall meeting with a Hispanic man who talked to me about my traumas, my family, and the story that made my life where it was today. After having this experience, I had thought that any additional sessions would be just like that one. In my next session things turned much darker as I felt like I was dying, I saw very real hallucinations that were darker in theme, and I also was psychologically molested by what I could only describe as a god-like being. This not only scared me away from using psychedelics for a period but also infused PTSD aliments in my psyche for many years later.
My initial thought when I had this experience was that I did something wrong. I wasn’t taking Ayahuasca in the traditional setting; I was doing it alone, and not under the guidance of a shaman. I later learned that my experience was more common than I initially thought even in the “right” set and setting. These negative aspects of psychedelics are just not discussed as openly as they should be.
Overall what I learned is that there are a lot of opinions and superstitions around psychedelic use. Each has their rights and wrongs when it comes to using psychedelics to change our minds. What it comes down to though is that bad trips do happen, and fear induces most of those experiences. If you are in a negative place both physically or psychologically, there is a higher chance of you having a negative experience. Additionally, sometimes bad trips happen regardless of those things, you can’t always control that aspect of psychedelics. Even bad trips can be overall positive, as sometimes we need to work through our fears. In many cases, this is what runs true to my experience.
Negative aspects of psychedelics go past the bad trips as well. Alternative thinking sometimes can get mistaken as facts when it comes to psychedelic use. In most cases, this is not dangerous as long as the person can accept new ideas as just thoughts, and not being real facts. For instance, I have often had thoughts about people while smoking marijuana (which is a mild psychedelic) which I know to be untrue, but I still find interesting. In some extreme cases though these ideas can become very real where people have been known to drill holes into their heads to stay high forever. Or in other examples people believing that psychedelics are the only real way to enlightenment, or that they are the real Jesus Christ.
Psychedelics change how our minds naturally operate by altering our brains chemistry. As a result, strange experiences and ideas can form, that like any other thought or belief can become very real for the experiencer. The problem with these ideas is that often they seem very believable to the individual. For that reason, it’s important to stay grounded, to take breaks, and to reflect on your life, what you know and understand, and get involved with a community who can help you through the process. If you get depressed after using psychedelics once, maybe it’s a good idea to take a break. More doesn’t necessarily mean better.
Now I am not saying that everyone who uses psychedelics is going to have crazy ideas that they can’t control or rationalize out, but what I am saying is those odd ideas are common, and it’s important to understand that its a possibility that you could run into some potentially dangerous situations while using psychedelics. Again that is why it’s essential to research and know what you are doing before you use anything.
I look forward to the day that psychedelics can be used in more professional settings so that individuals can get support while these ideas develop. I think that if I had that type of opportunity while I first started to use psychedelics, I would have benefited more from the experiences earlier on.
What Some of the Psychedelic Research Is Indicating
Because of the new age movement in the 1960’s psychedelics have had a hard time being accepted into mainstream consciousness as a serious tool to help people heal. It wasn’t until 1990 that Dr. Strassman who was a researcher at the General Clinical Research Center of the University of New Mexico Hospital was able to use DMT to understand its effect on humans. Since then, psychedelics have been making headway into legitimizing their ability to help people.
As international drug laws start to change more and more research is being conducted to understand how psychedelics can change our minds. Research has been focused primarily on drug addiction, PTSD, depression, and other psychological issues. Some studies using psychedelic mushrooms have been done to see if those using psychedelics would be likely to quit smoking with some surprising results. Another study has been conducted to see how salvia can help with chronic pain. I have even heard personal stories of individuals taking psychedelic mushrooms in order to reduce their pain and trauma with much success. There are also some studies showing how psychedelics can increase neural plasticity in specific areas of the brain.
There is new research coming out every day with the focus being on psychedelics and how they can help individuals overcome anything from diseases of the body to diseases of the mind. There is, however, more to a psychedelic than just healing from sickness, there is the spiritual aspect to as well.
Psychedelics and Spirituality
Spiritually psychedelics have completely changed who I am. I used to be a very strict Christian, and after using hallucinogens, I immediately changed my thoughts about religion. I no longer grasped onto my beliefs as fact and became more welcoming to new ideas about religion and philosophy. For me, psychedelics were the first real spiritual experience I had, as it changed my worldview. I went from the mindset of I know everything, to the I know nothing worldview. This change in perception pushed me towards an existential crisis that lasted well over five years, again supporting the need for groundedness when using psychedelics. The end result though was positive where I am open to other peoples prospectives on religion and spirituality, and am still in the process of figuring out my personal beliefs on the subject.
The Future of Psychedelics
Overall I think that psychedelics are very powerful tools that can change how we see ourselves, how we see the world around us, and how we think of reality and spirituality. I also think that with any powerful tool, harm can be caused. I fully believe that it is important for someone who is interested in using psychedelics to understand the negative aspects of the drugs and to build a support group for themselves so that they can get the help if they need it. For a good reason, I didn’t dive into the right and wrong ways of using psychedelics in this article because that is dependent on each person’s wants and desires. I do believe that everyone needs to respect themselves and the drugs they choose to use so that they can use them for the better.
The research and community surrounding psychedelics seem to be heading in the right direction with more scientific experiments being conducted and more people open to new ideas, but unintentionally I think we are hearing only the more positive side of the story. Real education of both the positive and negatives of psychedelics will only help improve the dialog. Hopefully, the result of these changes is leading to be real, long-lasting change for those individuals who need it most.
Are Psychedelics Bad or Good?
As I said at the beginning of this article that I don’t know how you classify what is good or bad. I would again say that psychedelics are very powerful tools that can be used in specific ways to create specific results. They can be used for “good” to heal people and to improve many peoples daily lives. They can also be used for “bad” by making people susceptible to odd thoughts, increasing depressive thoughts and so on. How you use psychedelics determines how a psychedelic responds to you. If you are using it to improve your life, then it most likely will, but if you are using it to harm yourself or others, then that will be the result. The intention is key just like any life practice and I hope that you use psychedelics to explore wisely.
Lee Adams is a Ph.D. candidate in Jungian Psychology and Archetypal Studies at Pacifica Graduate Institute and host of Cosmic Echo, a lucid dreaming podcast, and creator of taileaters.com, an online community of lucid dreamers and psychonauts. Lee has been actively researching, practicing, and teaching lucid dreaming for over twenty years.
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