Get curious about psychedelics. Responsibly.

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Shifting cultural perceptions of the nonrational

From John Weir Perry’s The Far Side of Madness on shifting cultural perceptions of the nonrational:

It is fortunate [..] that there were no psychiatrists around who might have locked up Paul or Brother Klaus, Joan of Arc or George Fox for their auditory and visual hallucinations. Is our problem, perhaps, to be found more in our conception of what is normal than in what is called sick?

We are living in an age of transition, still under the spell of an era of reason and positivism, but entering a new one of tolerance for the nonrational. Our psychiatry still belongs to the era we are leaving. Then, men looked on mind as consisting of the rational functioning of consciousness, assuming a right way and a wrong way to think and feel. A mental “normal” was assumed by a general consensus and would be demonstrated statistically, such that all so favored could be properly alike, adapted and adjusted one to another. In contrast to such norms were the unusual and nonrational ways, which then were called “disorders.” There could be no room for the Pauls, Foxes, and Blakes in this world of norms; imagine anyone talking with his visions! Things must be called by their proper designations: Trances were hysterical, visions and voices were visual and auditory hallucinations — and nothing more. All that departed from the normal was by definition symptomatic of the abnormal, the pathological.

In a new age that has a degree of tolerance and understanding for the nonrational, how far can we go with it? Have we room in our new world for divine possession, like the Balinese ecstatic dancer or the whirling dervish? If we are not going to expect that all should be alike and are to agree instead that the psyche has its own strange ways of accomplishing its ends, then perhaps what were called symptoms and syndromes may call for a different interpretation and evaluation.

Symptoms are judged by the fact of departure from the norms. If we look upon these same phenomena as expressions of inner experience, as valid psychic process and content, then a thorough reassessment of them is called for.

We might compare this problem with experience in the arts. If we were so governed by a rationalistic age that we expected painting to depict the objective world realistically, then the photographic would be “normal” and the Chagalls and Blakes “abnormal.” Or in literature, if it were expected that “normal” meant clear descriptive and narrative prose, then Goethe’s Faust, Part 2, would be considered crazy. So with psychic life. If health means stark reality-orientation and adjustment, then the adolescent storms have no place; they are sickness, not creative turmoils. If the psyche is expected to grow smoothly in its developmental stages, in gradually ascending steps, like the grades in schooling, there is no place for turbulence. But if we grant recognition to the empirical facts — that the psyche grows instead by cataclysmic upheavals — we must change our model. It is an organism that grows more like the deciduous tree than the evergreen; periods of leafing and flowering alternate with periods of recession and resorption. The psyche grows by renewals — death and new life, revolutions and overthrows of what has been, and the burgeoning of new forms dislodging the old ones.

Cultural renewal and the death of the mystical vision

From John Weir Perry’s The Far Side of Madness on cultural renewal and how institutionalizing the mystical vision slowly kills it:

“What begins as the drive to make communicable the good news that the mystic vision is there and can be reached, becomes in time a need to gather a following. There is a contagious quality along with the communicability; souls are touched with fire, and a blaze of enthusiasm spreads rapidly, with a tremendous uprush of energy. Paul’s church spreads rapidly over the Mediterranean world, Hung’s columns march toward the Manchu capital to overthrow the dynasty, or in contrast, George Fox’s followers take their stand in numbers against the Wars of the Commonwealth; and in the train of experiences of the great mystics in the late medieval church, droves of men and women take vows in innumerable monasteries founded by those dynamic souls.

With a following comes also the requirement for structuring and codifying, or institutionalized form and doctrine, and on the heels of that, the distinguishing of true and false following in the form of orthodoxy and heresy. Finally the generally agreed conventions congeal, and we have the authoritarian “establishment” as the final plight.

Such is the evolution of the vision over the years, from an original, raw, affective, and fluid experience into a cold and static institution frozen in formalities. In time, too many questions which arise find no answers.

These are the circumstances in which the collective psyche becomes restless. The culture is ready for renewal and reinvigoration through fresh original experiences once more. Souls sensitive to the pressures and movements of the collective psyche feel these impulses toward renewal, and make the mystical journey, often in consequence transforming the religious authority or cultural canon.”

The brain as a transceiver of consciousness

From Stan & Christina Grof’s Holotropic Breathwork:

Very few people, including most scientists, realize that we have absolutely no proof that consciousness is actually produced in the brain and by the brain. There is no doubt that there exists vast clinical and experimental evidence showing significant interconnections and correlations between the anatomy, physiology, and biochemistry of the brain, on the one hand, and states of consciousness, on the other. However, it represents a major logical jump to infer from the available data that these correlations represent a proof that the brain is actually the source of consciousness. Such a deduction would be tantamount to the conclusion that the TV program is generated in the TV set, because there is a close correlation between functioning or malfunctioning of its components and the quality of the sound and picture. It should be obvious from this example that the close connection between cerebral activity and consciousness does not exclude the possibility that the brain mediates consciousness, but does not actually generate it. The research of holotropic states has amassed ample evidence for this alternative.

Excellent magic mushroom trip report from author of “Acid Test”


Tom Shroder recently took psilocybin mushrooms for the first time in 35 years and wrote an excellent trip report on his experience. He’s the author of Acid Test: LSD, Ecstasy, and the Power to Heal (book review), and a speaker at the Horizons conference in New York in October 2014; he also recently wrote a great long-form article on psychedelic science and history.

Here’s a quote from the write-up of his first ‘shroom trip in 35 years:

“I can’t think of any other way to put this but to say the sky opened, and grace poured down all around me. Light itself had transformed into a palpable substance, spilling down as if from a fountain. But it was more than light. It was blessings of every kind, goodness incarnate, flowing inexhaustible and immutable from above. I didn’t say to myself, “What is this?” I didn’t guess. I knew, I saw, I was in the presence of God. This wasn’t a God with whom I could have a conversation, at least not two-way. I think I said, or shouted, “Ok, I am DEFINITELY not an atheist,” but God was mute, or rather, I understood, or perceived, that the only response God would ever make was the boundless bounty of beauty cascading over me.”

Read the full trip report here!

(Header credit: shazbot on Flickr)

Drug Policy Alliance’s Ethan Nadelmann kicks ass in his TED talk on the failed drug war

[ted id=2130]

Drug Policy Alliance executive director Ethan Nadelmann recently gave an excellent TED talk on the failed war on drugs. In it, he rightly describes the near-global adaptation of the US’s drug policy model as the international projection of a domestic psychosis about drug use, and urges for sensible drug policy and for the treatment of drug abuse as a medical issue, not a criminal one — changes that couldn’t come soon enough.

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Santa’s Shamanic Origins


This week, I wrote about the remarkable parallels between contemporary Christmas tradition and the mythologies of Amanita-using pre-Christian indigenous Siberian and North European cultures. Check it out here! The article draws heavily from a 2003 Cannabis Culture article and the references contained therein.

Psychosis as a healing process

From John Weir Perry’s The Far Side of Madnessin which he discusses how psychosis is a healing process set in place to reconstitute a fragmented self-image:

Taking into account various observations on schizophrenia, I have been inclined to think of the “psychopathology” differently from the usual textbook psychiatric formulation. It is justifiable to regard the term “sickness” as pertaining not to the acute turmoil but to the prepsychotic personality, standing as it does in need of profound reorganization. In this case, the renewal process occurring in the acute psychotic episode may be considered nature’s way of setting things right. Even though this compensatory process may become a massive turmoil, the turbulence is a step on the way toward the living of a more fulfilled emotional life.

He goes on to discuss the cause of the psychotic turmoil and how it is often resolved:

A severe injury to the self-image was apparently at the heart of the genesis of the prepsychotic personality in the cases that I have studied. Things went wrong during the phase in which the archetypal bond with the mother would ordinarily be bringing into play the attentive, tender, caring, and even worshipful emotions of the mother toward her child — this being the child’s fundamental need during this phase. Typically, the mothers of these individuals seemed to have failed to render such love. Such a mother tends to have the feeling, in regard to this particular offspring at least, that she is dealing with a child that she cannot wholeheartedly love with full acceptance. There may be a projection of an image upon the child of unattractiveness or strangeness or perhaps of the black sheep; then the child grows to sense an ill-defined negative judgment of some sort, and his image of himself depicting this emotion will reflect the mother’s emotion. If she sees in him a black sheep, then his image of himself will be the black sheep. Very often this image will turn out to have its origin in the mother’s complexes derived from her own unfavorable parent-sibling relationships. The image representing the mother’s experience of the child becomes all-important to his psychic welfare, establishing for him either the emotional conditions of health and warmth of feeling, or those of distortion and painfulness.

From observing the behavior of the archetypal affect-images in schizophrenic episodes, the impression has grown on me that the syndrome revolves around the problem of self-image. In it, there is a pathological division between its two forms, the personal and the archetypal ones; that is, the personal self-image in the usual sense of the way the person views and evaluates himself, and the archetypal image that compensates it in depth. In the prepsychotic development, the personality has grown into an identity that does not properly belong to him. For he has grown up with a feeling of unlovedness and consequent outsideness, and the self-image is that of being faulty, undesirable, unworthy, and unpromising. These are derived from the mother’s projection, and are taken over by the ego as its personal self-image. Close behind these feelings are the fantasy ones — from the compensating archetypal affect-image — of being superlative, more than human, a genius, or a person of momentous importance to the world. Thus, when the personal self-image is severely debased — as it usually is in the prepsychotic make-up — the archetypal self-image is in the same measure exalted.

The discrepancy between the two self-images in their counterpoise sets up an unstable psychic situation full of a sense of unreality and of anxiety, which is prone at any time to precipitate one into the archetypal renewal process. It seems that when the psyche cannot progress further into its next steps of experience so encumbered by this very negative self-image — especially at times of the great crises of ebullient falling in love or of hurtful fulling into rejection — a change is initiated. The psychic energy, the libido, is attracted to the archetypal level of the psyche, where a process of very high energy-charge starts moving, reorganizing the central archetype and hence reconstituting the self-image. It appears that this recession of the libido leaves the higher levels of the psyche stripped of their usual energy-charge, and hence in a state of disorganization. Both the ego-consciousness and the complexes are left in a state of fragmentation.

As I see it, the principal change that takes place in the reconstitution of the self-image is not merely that self-esteem is restored, but much more, that the capacity to love and be loved is generated. The plight of the schizoid personality is that love has been disappointed. The mother-child bond as the first basic experience of secure love should have been the model for all later experiences of closeness; the mother should have become the first representative of the “Eros” principle, that of relating and loving and allowing intimacy. But what took its place instead was control and suppression. Thus, not only did the child learn for self-protection to withdraw feeling, but even more, he came to deal with people according to the Power principle, instead of the more natural Eros one to which it stands as an opposite. Power wants status and control, while Eros seeks relatedness and closeness. The prepsychotic make-up, with its assumption of unlovability, then suffers a difficult combination of feelings of crushing insignificance and of superlative prestige-hunger. In other words, the initial tendency of the archetypal self-image is to prompt the ego to seek out a balm for unacceptability in the form of some absolute mastery. The psychotic process habitually puts this power-oriented form of the self through a transformation that awakens the potentials for relationship and gives them their rightful place in the structure of the personality and in the style of life.

Then Perry gives an example to illustrate this progression:

One example comes to mind that was so classic in its outlines as to be almost schematic. It is that of a young man in therapy with one of the residents whom I was supervising. I can therefore say with some assurance that I did not influence the content or the direction of flow of the imagery. For the first weeks of his episode he believed himself to be specially elected by the “Space Wizards,” superintelligent and superpowerful beings who ruled the galaxy, to be Chief Space Wizard on earth. (This is twentieth-century language for the title King of the Universe.) In the course of the following weeks, however, his interest shifted remarkably away from such superlative imagery and he became engrossed instead in the fantasy of immersing himself in life on a farm with his wife, raising children and vegetables and livestock. The atmosphere of these preoccupations, starting with the crisp, cold, electric excitement of cosmic power from the sky, turned now to the opposite extreme, the warm quiet comfort of loving family bonds and of nursing the life of animals and plants living on the soil of the earth.

A Tripper’s Guide to the Galaxy

To complement my article on trip sitting, this week I wrote a brief guide with seven things you should think about if you’re considering taking psychedelics. Among them, the seeming paradox of setting intention while not having expectations; cleaning up your setting; and setting aside the following day for reflection and integration. Check it out here!

For more reading, you should check out Myron Stolaroff’s “Using Psychedelics Wisely”, hosted on Erowid and also appearing as chapter 8 of Charles Grob’s “Hallucinogens: a reader“.


Could an Illegal Drug Change the Way We Treat Psychological Trauma?

illustration: Sam Jones

This week, I wrote about MDMA research, and the story of Nicholas Blackston, whom I had the pleasure of seeing speak at the Horizons 2014 conference in New York. He is a two-time Iraq war veteran who returned from his deployments with severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). After failing to find relief through available treatment, he was admitted into a study using MDMA-assisted psychotherapy to treat victims of PTSD. This therapy was successful in giving him the healing he needed. Read the article!

While you’re at it, you should also check out the fantastic Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). Their page on MDMA research can be found here.


Psychedelic Trip Sitting

graphic: Sam Jones

graphic: Sam Jones

Based on last week’s article, a friend started a conversation with me about how they could best support their friend who would soon be doing magic mushrooms, to ensure all went well and that they benefited from their experience. After a lengthy conversation on trip sitting, I decided it’d make a great topic for an article! So here you go, a short how-to on facilitating your friend’s psychedelic experiences. Hopefully you and your friends find it useful!

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