Why Are We Tuning Back In?
The United States has been witnessing record levels of people addicted to drugs and alcohol, with the opioid epidemic taking first place.
The United States is also seeing record numbers of suicide, depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). People have been looking to alternative methods of healing themselves opposed to traditional, allopathic treatments whose methods may leave much to be desired.
Psychedelics have once again made their way back into the pop culture. Long gone are the days in the 1960’s where freely “dropping acid” (LSD) in the streets promised rebellion and liberation from cultural and governmental powers.
New, groundbreaking research conducted by trusted institutions like Johns Hopkins University and New York University, have been proving the potent healing powers of psychedelics.
The word psychedelic is translated from the Greek and means “mind manifesting.” Psyche means soul or mind and delein means to manifest. Thus, using psychedelics allows us to tap into the mind and the soul in a deep and meaningful way.
Those who use psychedelics to journey inside themselves are called psychonauts. Today’s psychonauts understand the critical importance of set, setting and intention, sans recreation, when embarking on a psychedelic healing ceremony.
Set and setting are the two most important aspects when journeying with psychedelics, according to Timothy Leary, the Harvard clinical psychologist and most vocal advocate for psychedelics in the 1906’s. Set in this context refers to the actual mindset and attitude the individual brings to the experience. One’s mindset determines the quality of the psychedelic experience. A “bad” trip (nowadays, referred to as a “challenging” trip) could result after a fight with a loved one or if the individual is in a particularly fragile state of mind.
Setting refers to the physical environment where the psychedelic experience takes place. A setting can be in the Amazon jungle surrounded by shamans and other like-minded psychonauts with the intention to heal, or it could be in a friend’s basement decorated with black light, velvety neon posters and incense. A psychedelic friendly setting could enhance the overall experience. Some have found that lights, music, funky textured materials, elements of nature and comfy seating have been beneficial.
The more adventurous and veteran psychonauts prefer to have the experience in complete darkness and silence.
The zeitgeist in the alternative, spiritual-healing communities for the past few years has been people seeking indigenous plant medicines (which are not referred to as “drugs”, as in the western sense of the word) like ayahuasca, which originated and is practiced in South America. In addition, iboga, which originates and is practiced in Gabon, Africa, has become a trusted and effective source for the deep mind, body and soul healing that otherwise could not be attained traditionally.
Plant medicines are being used to treat the deep-seated roots of addictions, mental and emotional health issues like depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (war veterans, victims of sexual trauma, and childhood trauma).
Childhood trauma, which we have now come to understand, is the root of most addictions, and mental/physical health disorders in adult life. It is commonly agreed upon that one ayahuasca ceremony is equivalent to ten years of therapy.
Plants that contain naturally occurring psychedelic substances are called entheogens. All around the world, for thousands of years, indigenous people have looked to the earth to provide food, shelter and medicine. Tribes had medicine men and women, called shamans, who held rituals using entheogens for the physically, emotionally and spiritually sick tribesmen. Shamans, also called “healers” were the wise ones of the village who knew how to make people well.
Aren’t Psychedelics “Drugs”?
In the United States, psychedelic substances, whether they are entheogens or synthetic compounds, are illegal and are considered a Schedule 1 drug, like heroin and crack. Schedule 1 drugs are considered the most dangerous of the drugs and are defined as having a high potential for abuse and do not present any immediate or effective medical use.
What makes psychedelics different from illegal, street drugs, are their non-addictive properties and their positive effects on the brain.
Many studies have shown that psychedelics promote neuritogenesis, the formation of new neurites. These cellular outgrowths develop into dendrite and axons on active neurons and have the ability to revive the shrunken, atrophied cortical neurons which contribute to mood and anxiety disorders, like depression.
In the book, “How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression and Transcendence” by Michael Pollan, Pollan outlines the neurological discoveries of Robin Carhart-Harris, a scientist who studies the effects of psychedelics and the brain.
Carhart-Harris discovered that psilocybin (the psychedelic substance in “magic mushrooms”) reduced blood flow to a certain network of the brain, rather than increased blood flow, as he had hypothesized.
Imaging and data had shown that there was a decrease in blood flow to what is now known as the default mode network or DMN. The DMN was discovered by accident in 2001 and is considered to be the conductor of the brain’s symphony or the highest structure of the brain’s hierarchical system.
The default mode network oversees the functions of daydreaming, streams of consciousness, future projecting and the other higher cognitions. The DMN is considered the center of metacognition, where the concept of the ego lives in all adult human beings. The DMN is in charge of controlling all the systems of the brain and keeping the whole system running smoothly. This includes higher order functions including stopping chaos, scaling perceptions, and allowing the brain to run like a well-oiled machine.
This crucial finding explains why psychonauts utilize psychedelics in regard to exploring their mind and for spiritual pursuits and for the purpose of ego dissolution, otherwise known as ego death.
Psychedelic therapy is powerful and effective because depending on dose, the psychonaut will experience ego dissolution. Ego death, although possibly uncomfortable and unnerving, can serve as a new beginning or rebirth for the psychonaut.
When the ego structure is collapsed, our sense of self is dismantled thus breaking down notions and beliefs that have stunted, imprisoned or perpetuated our dysfunction. Spiritually, the psychonaut gains the visceral sense of oneness and interconnectedness, possibly even making a connection with the divine.
Bill Wilson, founder of Alcoholics Anonymous identified that “ego deflation at depth” is necessary for a total surrender to overcome your self and the disease of alcoholism (albeit through surrender to a higher power greater than one’s self.)
Trauma doesn’t just affect the brain and body, trauma affects the soul. Thus, trauma can be healed, fears can be confronted and new “doors of perception” can open one up to a profound healing experience.
For example, the ayahuasca brew, which is made from the ayahuasca vine and the leaves of the chacruna plant, contain the psychedelic compound DMT (dimethyltryptamine), otherwise known as the “spirit molecule.” It is called such due to the vivid, geometric hallucinations and mystical, divine experience it induces.
The Fundamental Difference between Psychedelics and Street Drugs
When people abuse substances like alcohol, opioids, meth, or cocaine, there is an underlying need to escape their current reality, ease emotional pain, numb feelings, and quiet their internal demons.
People use psychedelics to achieve the exact opposite. Psychonauts journey with psychedelics to confront their demons, to feel their pain and learn to listen to their inner-self with the intention to overcome their personal limitations and afflictions, like addiction, traumas and depression.
There is nothing fun, light or easy about an entheogen ceremony. Purging, diarrhea and crying almost always accompany the psychonaut during the journey. This, the shamans say, is getting well not getting sick.
Psychedelics have been shown to take away drug cravings, help with detoxification and restructure the brain. For example, iboga is being used with great efficacy in treating opioid addiction.
However, psychedelics are not for everyone. People with severe mental illnesses, people who are on psychotropic medications like antidepressants and those who are not at a level of consciousness where they hold some insight into their own psyche’s antics, should stay clear of this method. Most medications need to be ceased while participating in a ceremony and for at least a few weeks prior. Most reputable retreats will have a medical staff on premises and a full medical evaluation in order to apply for acceptance.
Since entheogens like ayahuasca and iboga are illegal in the US, people are traveling to Peru, Costa Rica and other countries to experience this level of personal transformation.
There are reputable retreats in these countries and personal research must be done to find a find a retreat center that is right for you. The reputable retreat centers will have phone numbers, email addresses and representatives who promptly return your requests for information.
The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies or MAPS, was established in 1986, and has been a pioneer in medical and legal research for the therapeutic uses of psychedelics.
A major focus of MAPS currently, is the clinical testing for MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for combat veterans, which has shown tremendous efficacy and promise. Several other groundbreaking studies have been conducted by New York University and Johns Hopkins University on using psychedelics to treat trauma and for easing the anxiety when facing the end of your life.
Psychedelic research is proving that psychedelics are the way of the future to treat a myriad of mental and emotional health issues. Psychedelics are not a cure but a powerful tool on your journey to wellness.