What is dangerous?

This is a second answer concerning a question about my blog post about how dangerous different substances actually are.

What do you mean by dangerous, Daniel? Do you mean for the mind or for body, or is it a combination?

I want to start with a disclaimer – I haven’t put a lot of thought into this. There are probably many sharp minds who have, but I can imagine splitting the harmful effects into at least six categories.

1. Physical damage and the possibility of dying.

Portrait #119 - PérineMallory - Friendly smoking - by Valentin Ottone on Flickr
Portrait #119 – PérineMallory – Friendly smoking – by Valentin Ottone on Flickr

Some substances are physically much more dangerous than others. For example, in Sweden 12.000 people die every year from smoking. This can be compared with the number of deaths for all illicit drugs together, which barely passes the 500 mark. This is comparable to the number of suicides, and some of them are of course suicides. Hundreds of people die each year from alcohol poisoning, but we have yet to seen anyone die of cannabis.

If we look at damage caused by substances, I have seen estimates that between 10-25 percent of the hospital beds in Sweden are occupied by someone who is there because of their drinking. And even though nobody is dying of cannabis, there are those who take physical damage, such as with memory impairment. Other physically dangerous drugs are, for example, opiates (including heroin), cocaine and amphetamine.

2. Physical and psychological dependence.

Some drugs are physically addictive, so that users get a strong physical craving for them. Some of the more well known are opiates, nicotine, alcohol and cocaine. From my own experience I can say that cannabis is also physically addictive, but much less so than nicotine.

There are many substances which do not create physical dependence, but people with addictive personalities don’t need a physical addiction to abuse a substance. The addict has a frame of mind where the search for the next high/intoxication is compulsive.

Drug opponents sometimes try to convince us that illegal substances that do not create physical dependence, instead automatically create psychological dependence. That is not my experience when it comes to psychedelics. LDS and magic mushrooms create no physical dependencies, but also seems to have built into the actual experience that people are satisfied and needs time to integrate their insights. Psychedelics sometimes also moderate or often solve addiction problems. Certainly there are addictive personalities looking for highs with psychedelics, but it is more common that people use psychedelics in a moderate manner.

3. Mental harm.

belaDano+drugs by Daniel Depix on Flickr
belaDano+drugs by Daniel Depix on Flickr

Here it starts to get tricky, because discomfort is not the same as harm. Is it mental harm to trigger psychosis or latent disorders? I do not think psychoses always let themselves be categorized so easily, because they can often lead on to something extremely positive. Many addicts have paranoid traits, but is it really a sign that the drug did something with their psyche or is it the result of a long, well-founded fear of the legal system?

Leaving this aside, I think that it is really important to address the “bad trips” reported on psychedelics. This is not to be regarded as mental harm, no matter how ignorantly one discusses the matter.

A bad trip pretty much always stems from the persons inability to handle that which comes up during the trip. It could be a childhood trauma, fear, or pain that you have caused others. When something like this pops up during a trip we can choose to face the problem, or we can try to escape from it. When we try to run away from aspects of ourselves that need healing, we hurt ourselves, which can lead to, for example, depression or psychosis. But the problem is not that we have the opportunity to confront this. The opportunity is really a great gift. The problem is that we do not dare or have the ability to meet these challenges and that we are fleeing from ourselves. Mental difficulties that occur in this way should therefore not be attributed to the substance, but rather the person’s inability to meet themselves. The solution to it all is education, support and guidance; something we get very little of in society today.

Flashbacks on psychedelics is a curious chapter in itself. There are those who suffer from involuntary lingering effects, such as prolonged light, bouncing sound etc. I cannot say much about that. However, there is another kind of flashback, the one where you experience new, but true perception. Example, let’s say you open up the ability to see energy patterns in nature. When the trip is over, the ability stays. It was there all along and just needed to be opened up, jump started. This could also be considered a flashback and for someone who cannot put the ability into an understandable context, it can be misinterpreted as mental injury. But again, the problem is not the substance or what it opened up, but the persons inability to deal with it.

4. Increased risk behavior.

There are substances that are clearly linked to risky behavior. In that sense I have not been in contact with anything more dangerous than alcohol. Example, I have driven a car plastered, really fast on a winding country road in the dark. If I had smoked cannabis instead, I might still have gotten behind the wheel, but instead of driving 40 kilometers over the speed limit, I would likely have driven 40 kilometers below it. When I smoked cannabis, it made me very careful and cautious.

It is no coincidence that drunkenness and violence go hand in hand. Alcohol brings out an aggressive mentality – of course not in all, but in very many – and it ‘s very easy to go out of control on alcohol. It is no coincidence that there is next to no violence at rave parties, where illegal substances are easily accessible. People on cannabis, MDMA, LSD or mushrooms often have a hard time understanding violence, and even more difficulty participating in it.

One myth regarding LSD is that you think that you can fly and jump out of a window. On alcohol, I have climbed scaffoldings and cranes, swum across lakes, thrown myself into channels, gotten into quarrels and driven cars. On LSD, I usually walked around in the woods looking at the flowers and trees, meditated, danced, explained to people how much I love them and felt at one with the universe.

5. Danger to society.

No Sex No Drugs No Rock & Roll Toilet Graffiti by GanMed64 on Flickr
No Sex No Drugs No Rock & Roll Toilet Graffiti by GanMed64 on Flickr

Some things are obvious risks to society, such as violence, abuse and theft. An economist would perhaps also count in sick days and lost productivity as dangers to society. We might with small differences all agree, and I think it is clear which substances are hazardous in this respect.

One issue that I think is interesting is whether there is a danger to society when its citizens refuse to obey unjust laws. I would argue that it is not a danger to society when people ignore the drug laws to seek alternative ways to heal, develop, connect to the divine, or just relax and have fun. It is on the contrary a very healthy challenge that will lead to positive change. Unfortunately, many get into trouble, being prosecuted for things that should not be considered criminal. That is a danger to society.

6. Spiritual danger.

From personal experience I can say that there are substances that connect us to the divine and there are substances that stun and disconnect us. Psychedelics such as mushrooms, DMT, mescaline and LSD have the ability to connect us. Substances such as opiates, alcohol, nicotine, amphetamines, and cocaine disconnect us.

When I talk about what is dangerous, this is not what I ‘m talking about. This has its own chapter.

To return to the question: what do I think of as dangerous?

Ourense 15012010 by Foxspain Fotografía on Flickr
Ourense 15012010 by Foxspain Fotografía on Flickr

When I say dangerous, I mainly mean what is physically dangerous – that is what kills, what hurts, what leads to physical dependence, what leads to dangerous behavior and what leads to violence and crime that affects other people. These substances I consider to be the most dangerous and they include drugs like opiates, alcohol, nicotine and amphetamines. Funny enough, these are all in some form legal and readily available, and the deadliest (nicotine) and the most risky (alcohol) are completely legal.

I am not so naive as to dismiss psychological risks, but we should not, as today, exaggerate them. These risks can be minimized with education and guidance. I see two main psychological hazards:
1. Abuse. The abuse is never in substance, but in the person. We need to help people overcome addictions, instead of stigmatizing them. Substance abuse is a sickness and should not be fought with law.
2. People freak out because they do not know how to handle life. We need to give people the tools to process trauma, fear, sadness, anxiety, depression, and similar things, so that they may take control of their lives instead of being caught off guard and freaking out.

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The Trip

Ever After by Dar'ya Sipyeykina on Flickr
Ever After by Dar’ya Sipyeykina on Flickr

Those hours when you feel confused, when you are open and see amazing stuff – that is not the trip. The real trip is the rest of your life, when you try to apply your insights into everyday life. The trip doesn’t lasts for 8, 12 or 24 hours. It lasts as long as you work with it.

You take advantage of the trip by integrating the insights into everyday life. By making changes for the better.

If you do not incorporate the new insights, the psychedelics and your subconscious will eventually become tougher towards you, they might even get angry. When you do not practice your insights, you live in denial. Therefore, those who once had exhilarating happy trips suddenly might find themselves having really scary trips.

● ● ●

The same of course applies to all spiritual work. Thrill seeking is not the trip. The trip is when you apply what you’ve found in your everyday life. It is only then that it has any real significance – in the meeting with yourself, your family, your friends and the outside world.

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Answers to “Substances that hurt us”

I have had some comments and questions about my channeled blog post on how dangerous different substances actually are, so I’d like to answer them here. In the previous post there were two lists. The first was a list of substances that are harmful, while the second was a list of substances that might be harmful dependig on how we use them.

Mushrooms can destroy the kidneys after ONE trip.
Magic mushrooms.
Magic mushrooms.

Magic mushrooms may put a little extra load on the kidneys, which can be felt as a soreness, especially when the mushrooms have been eaten fresh. I have however never found any information that mushrooms would be dangerous, even at very high doses and prolonged use. Had there been cases where people actually got their kidneys damaged, I guess that it would be well documented and thus familiar knowledge among people who work with psychedelics. But I have heard about ignorant drug counselors in Sweden spreading such misinformation.

When I google it while writing this, I still find no evidence of harmed kidneys. What I do find is a Swedish article from Läkartidningen (magazine for the Swedish union of Medical Doctors) which states that “The mushrooms do not contain toxins which harm inner organs. […] The risk of severe medical ill effects while using psilocybe mushrooms is mainly due to physical trauma as a result of uncontrolled behavior. Later, so-called ” flashbacks ” may lead to problems of a psychological nature. Another aspect is the risk of confusion with other mushroom species. Kidney failure has been reported after ingestion of mushrooms that were thought to be hallucinogenic, but in fact contained kidney injuring toxins.”

I dare almost certainly dismiss the claim that psychedelic mushrooms destroys kidney function. That claim seems to be part of the extensive flora of false “facts” that figure in the drug debate.

You rank cocaine as less harmful than amphetamine, while much research has shown that cocaine claims more victims, is more addictive and so on. How is that?

The list presented is channeled from the spirit world. I haven’t put it together. When it comes to amphetamine and cocaine, I have far too little knowledge to be able to say anything about it.

MDMA is included in the category of dangerous substances. What do you think about MDMA´s potential as a therapeutic tool? Dr. Rick Doblin (MAPS) conducts research on this and he is also a user of MDMA. Personally I would put MDMA in the category “dangerous if used incorrectly.”
Ecstacy - helping people to enjoy, be happy and grateful.
Ecstacy – helping people to enjoy, be happy and grateful.

The people at MAPS once showed me a letter written by two parents, where a therapist had done MDMA-assisted therapy on the family when the 30 year old daughter was about to pass away in cancer. The family was locked in utter death panic/anxiety. In the session they all took MDMA together and then they looked through their old photo album, all their old home movies and talked about all the wonderful moments that they had together. MDMA releases serotonin, which among other things makes you very empathetic. After they found the deep connection and gratitude for all they have experienced together, they were able to leave each other in love, instead of being locked in panic. The letter made an extremely deep impression on me and I get all chocked up just writing about it. With that letter still fresh in my memory (I read it in 2006) I of course think it should be legal. It is dreadful when laws prevent such help.

However, shortly after I met a guy who was also around 30. He had used a lot of Ecstacy and had, when I met him, quite recently completed many years of therapy trying to recover from the abuse. He told me that he had four years of his life that were just a mush. He could not distinguish one event from another, one year from another. It was four years lost and it had taken him four more years of therapy to accept that he had lost those four years. Now of course Ecstacy is not the pure substance MDMA , so there is no telling what he actually used, but I think it highlights the other end of the spectrum of that drug.

I definitely see a place for MDMA, but I might also put it on the second list.

Mescaline is a genuine psychedelic substance. Why is it on the second list, among the substances that can harm us if we use them incorrectly? Should it not be included among the substances that put us in touch with the gods?

I know far to little about the substance Mescaline to have a hunch about where it should be placed, but I also reacted when I saw it on the list. One interpretation that I find plausible is this:

In traditional plant medicine you work with one or several plants. In the case of Mescaline the most common plants to work are probably San Pedro or Peyote. These plants are revered as teachers and they are very communicative. There is intelligence there far beyond what we can imagine and it guides, helps and heals us.

When we isolate the molecule Mescaline we strip it of all else it was in relation to. We strip it of the intelligence that was there. This is what modern Western medicine does when it isolates molecules without understanding their functions and then forces them together with other molecules, hoping to solve illness from an intellectual level. Mescaline will still give a genuine psychedelic experience and if you are good at navigating it you can have great breakthroughs. But it will be without a plant teacher there to guide and heal you. Perhaps that difference can be what qualifies it for the second list?

Isn’t cannabis a psychedelic substance? If so, why is it on the second list?
by rafael-castillo on Flickr
by rafael-castillo on Flickr

Cannabis is usually referred to as a semi-psychedelic substance. In my opinion it can have psychedelic properties, but I would not confuse it with true psychedelics. If you have smoked cannabis, I don’t think that you should be under the impression that you have tried psychedelics.

The plant is considered sacred in many spiritual contexts, for example among the Sadhus in India, Sufis of Pakistan and Rastafarians in Jamaica. However, I have never seen it used that way in Sweden. Here I have mostly seen a recreational, or in some cases a medical use.

I have smoked my share of cannabis and feel that it fits very well in the second list, along with sugar and caffeine. It is clearly nowhere near as dangerous as any of the substances on the first list, even when used intensively.

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He wants to live again

the living and the dead by Alex on Flickr
the living and the dead by Alex on Flickr

– I want to be among the living. Again and again I heard it I my head, like a mantra. I want to be among the living. I want to be among the living.

– That may sound pretty trivial in hindsight, but I felt down and turned off for a long time. There are so many who are dead inside, and when the mantra went round in my head, I realized I no longer wanted to be among them. I belong among the living, because I want to live.

The MDMA experience was an awakening for Peter.
– Since then I try to be more active and life-affirming. I want to see more, do more, and experience more. I actually connect with people and I also practice to be more forgiving and humble. I try to see the good in people.

– The realization has given me a lot of joy in life, but it’s a quest. I have my ups and downs, but even so, I look at the future with a different confidence than before. I am among the living again.

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Ridiculing the spiritual

Once upon a time, I was outright hateful towards anything even slightly spiritual. As soon as someone told me about such things, I was quick to mock and diminish the person.

This led people not to discuss spirituality anywhere close to me. At least not a second time. Nobody told me about their experiences, which made ​​me even more convinced that no one really had any to begin with.

Period.

Then I took LSD and I opened up extremely significant new aspects of my life. I was flooded by experiences that I could not possibly understand without ridding myself of my hostile mindset. And when I looked back on my life I understood that I had been having these experiences all along, I had just been tranquilising myself with alcohol.

Fairy Godmother by Kevin Dooley on Flickr.
Fairy Godmother by Kevin Dooley on Flickr.

Then one day, I realized…

If you tell me about an experience you had, I have nothing to gain by arguing with you about it. This was your experience. If I am disrespectful, you’ll just stop telling me about it. If however I listen and ask, you will open up and tell me more.

I don’t need to evaluate what you say. You can tell me about your contacts with angels, a trip with aliens or dancing with the fairies – without me making it my reality. It is your reality and that’s good enough.

When I adopted that attitude, to ask and listen with sincere interest, people began telling me the most marvelous things. They opened up and showed me things that few people had seen. It can often feel like taking a risk to tell about a spiritual experience you’ve had. You risk being ridiculed by someone like the person I once was.

But if you keep quiet and hide you will never find out how many people you share the same fantastic experiences with. You won’t find out that you are far from alone.

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Love just appears

I’m the kind of guy that sings to himself, so one day I started singing…

you can’t hurry love, no you just have to wait…

I don’t really know where it came from, but it just kept going round, round in my head until I had to YouTube it. That’s when I found this guy, Fresh Big Mouf, with a wonderful style of making music. He picks a spot and a song, then he goes beat scouting – that is he finds sounds on location that he then builds music out of. And he is just brilliant! But hey, don’t take my word for it. Listen for yourself…

I especially like it when he has wonderful, beautiful Kina Grannis by his side. There is something to her that just fits so perfectly with the music, with his voice, with the entire set up.

But then you just can’t go wrong with The Beatles, even if Kina isn’t there to make it all a little better.

So it’s true. You can’t hurry love. One day you just start singing to yourself, you turn on YouTube and there they are… Some guy and some girl somewhere else, being just fantastic.

Love!

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Paying bills with a smile

Corn Drying by Alternative Heat on Flickr
Corn Drying by Alternative Heat on Flickr

I used to have somewhat of a minor depression every time I paid my bills and barely had any money left. So I came up with the following little gratefulness routine.

For every bill I pay I stop and think about what the bill represents.
– Oh, my car insurance! I am so happy that I have that car. It takes me to work through rain and snow and almost never stops. Thank you!
Then I pay the bill.
– Aha, the kindergarten bill. What fun it is for Mirjam to meet all the other children and learn things that she wouldn’t learn at home. And the teachers are really good. Thank you!
– My phone bill. I really enjoy having my entire record collection, my camera, and my games in my pocket. And of course, it has that special phone function too. Thank you!

Earlier I got faint and a little panicky when I paid the bills. Nowadays, I am surprisingly happy afterwards, although I’m just as broke.

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For ever grateful

My first LSD trip pretty much cured my alcoholism. The second and third put me well on my way to working through my four year long depression. I was utterly astounded by the miraculous effects, so of course I had to google it.

A few clicks and I had, among other things, learnt that:
* LSD had, before being criminalized, been used with fantastic results to cure addiction problems, such as alcoholism, where it often took only one trip to cure the person.
* One of the founders of AA was a strong advocate of LSD and was actually well on his way to start a program to distribute it throughout AA.
* LSD had a far greater success rate in curing alcoholism, than the AA 12 step program has ever had.
* LSD has also been used with great success to cure depression.
* Albert Hofmann’s 100th birthday was right around the corner and he was alive and kicking.
* In his honour there was a LSD conference being arranged in Basel, Switzerland, and everyone who was somebody in the psychedelic community would be there, along with the guest of honour, Albert Hofmann himself.

Albert Hofmann at the LSD symposium in Basel 2006. Photo: Daniel Wilby
Albert Hofmann at the LSD symposium in Basel 2006. Photo: Daniel Wilby

I had to go.

I was flat broke, but there are moments in life that are just too important to miss. This was one of them. I was probably the most inexperienced of the whole crowd, having taken LSD four or five times by then. The lectures were absolutely amazing and confirmed scientifically the effects and experiences that I was trying to describe to friends and family.

On the final night, after having listened to Albert Hofmann tell about his first experience, there was a wonderful party on a boat. It was full of psychedelic explorers, psychonauts of all generations. There were academics and hippies mixed up with ravers and artists. And of course the best LSD I have ever encountered.

I had never been to a rave before. My first encounter was on two drops of LSD and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Everyone on the dance floor was dancing in the same direction and they were rediscovering and reinventing what dance, body language and social interaction was. It was as if they had taken out social programming A, and were busy programming social programming B. People were friendly and caring, not at all the type of interaction that I was used to from night clubs.

I had no idea that this was what the ravers were up to.
– I have to find these raves, I told myself. They seem to have LSD.
They sure did, I soon found out. They sure did.

Hofmann on his bicycle.

Today is the 19th of April. It is Bicycle day. Today it is 71 years ago (1943) that Albert Hofmann first took his first intentional LSD trip to try to determine the effects of the peculiar substance that he had synthesized, while looking for a migraine cure. He took 250 micrograms, which he thought would be a threshold dose. It turned out that LSD was really potent. A threshold dose is approximately 20 micrograms. 250 micrograms is a powerful trip and feeling uneasy Hofmann early on decided to go home. Due to war time restrictions he took his bike and it was under that bike trip that the LSD really came to full effect.

Thank you, Albert Hofmann, for this truly miraculous substance. Thank you LSD for saving my life. In honour of you I have named my son Albert. I am forever grateful.

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Bringing in the yang

Time to meditate by Betty Nudler on Flickr
Time to meditate by Betty Nudler on Flickr

At my yoga school this Tuesday we did a wonderful little empowering exercise that I would like to share with you.

1. Write down 7 areas of your life where you would want to have more energy and power of initiative. (solarity/yang-energy)
2. Pick one of these, to begin with. (I would suggest the most important one.)
3. In a very relaxed state, close your eyes and imagine practically how this energy and initiative would manifest in the area you chose.

For me it quickly became very clear which simple small changes I could do to bring about very big changes in those areas of my life. Then I did those changes.

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