Tag Archives: drugs

Why psychedelics are illegal

Many people crudely think that all illegal drugs are illegal because they are physically dangerous to the user. That is not the case. Different substances have been made illegal at different times and for different reasons.

Some substances are rightly illegal because they are physically dangerous. Heroin, crack and GHB are examples of dangerous substances that pose a very real risk to the user. Ironically though the two most dangerous drugs – alcohol and tobacco – are not illegal.

Other substances are however illegal for very different reasons. Two reasons are very prominent: because they are perceived as dangerous to the status quo and to target and persecute specific groups.

Just the other day I was asked why psychedelics are illegal. They are obviously extremely useful medicines and also very safe when used correctly. Well, there are several reasons for them being illegal and most of them have nothing to do with health, but let us begin with the health issue.

Psychedelics are commonly non-toxic and pose no physical threat even at extreme doses. Most of these substances are not even possible to overdose to the degree that they would be life threatening. But there is one real health risk and that is to the user’s mental health. Psychedelics have the unique capacity of unlocking the doors of the unconscious mind. They can release what has been carefully locked away and repressed. This is of course what makes them such powerful therapeutic tools, but if the person isn’t open to taking care of what comes up the experience can be quite traumatic. The same goes for other kinds of therapy, meditation and contemplation. If you aren’t ready to meet what you have repressed you shouldn’t do or take anything that will uncover what you have buried.

nixon_militaryBut besides this, what were the perceived dangers that made psychedelics illegal? To grasp this one must look at the historical setting. Where did the push to criminalize come from and what is the backdrop? To understand this we need to go back to the USA in the mid 1960’s. Government at all levels were in a cold war state of mind trying to root out possible dissidents within. The Vietnam war had dragged on for ten years, US involvement was sharply rising, as was the death toll. It was a time for hardliners and hawks. JFK had been murdered and the much less diplomatic Lyndon B Johnson took his place. He was then followed by one of the fathers of the War on Drugs – Richard Nixon.

At the same time a very vocal and at times even revolutionary opposition was forming at home. There were many different movements with many different objectives, but when talking about psychedelics the hippies are of course at the focal point. What were they up to? They protested, burnt draft cards, let their hair grow, dressed strangely and promoted free sex, just to name a few things. In the eyes of a person like Nixon, and there were many like him at the time, they were trouble makers who were upsetting the status quo. They were anti-establishment peacemongerers and as such perceived as threatening by the establishment.

At the very core of that opposition was the experimentation with drugs and the one that has forever been associated with the hippie movement is of course the psychedelic LSD. So what was it about LSD that sparked this opposition and backlash towards the establishment? I think the ethnobotanist psychonaut Terence McKenna was spot on when he said that “they dissolve opinion structures and culturally laid down models of behaviour and information processing. They open you up to the possibility that everything you know is wrong.”

Photo: DaveHippie by studio muscle on Flickr
Photo: DaveHippie by studio muscle on Flickr

What LSD did was to awaken people from their cultural programming and indoctrination and let them see the world with other eyes. When they did so they could not accept what they had been taught, so they rebelled. They rebelled against violence, militarism and domination and instead sought “peace, love and understanding”.

On a side note both the CIA the American military had experimented heavily with LSD before it found its way to the hippies. One notable side effect was that quite a few soldiers that had been given it laid down their guns and refused to pick them up again.

For a person like Nixon this was all extremely threatening. To him America was losing its youth to a drug culture that was in direct opposition to the establishment. And he certainly had a point. If you want people to follow orders, be aggressive towards one another, go to war and kill people you will not want to give them LSD, because they will start thinking for themselves, refuse to follow orders and will refuse violence.

LSD was not made illegal because it is physically harmful to the person taking it. It was made illegal because it makes people question authority and social injustices and prompts them to do something about it. LSD and psychedelics threatened and still threatens the fabric of domination culture by showing people that another world is possible.

While many believe that our drug laws are there to protect us we have in fact inherited most of them from a time when domination culture was scared of losing control. Our drug laws are in many cases in place to hinder mind expansion and rebellion against the violent domination culture and the status quo, and most certainly so when it comes to psychedelics.

This is a pattern of dominance which is repeating itself.

Today the political establishment are the ones oppressing and persecuting the users of psychedelics. Yesterday it was the church. The brutal persecution of witches, witchdoctors, healers, shamans and anyone seeking other modalities of healing or other ways of reaching the divine was the church’s version of the War on Drugs. The vocabulary surrounding it all was different but still quite similar. Instead of safety and health concerns the church would talk about being in contact with or possessed by the devil or evil spirits.

Witch BurningWhile they might well have believed their own story, just as many do with the story of domineering culture of today, it was ultimately based in a fear of losing control over people. As many, perhaps even most, who work with psychedelics will attest to, psychedelics are often a door to the divine. They break down the limitations of our cultural programming. When it comes to the church there has often been an idea that certain people should act as intermediaries for the rest of us, thus the control over the contact with the divine and the divine will has been hijacked by priests and such. What psychedelics often do in that case is give the user his/her own personal contact with the divine, making the intermediary superfluous. For someone who wants to maintain control over other people this is of course extremely threatening and also provocative to the point where the church would be willing to kill people.

One needs to remember that the greatest threat to the church is that each and every one of us would be able to have our own contact with the divine. If we did have that contact the church would soon be redundant, at least as an interpreter of God’s will,  so it lies in the interest of the individual career makers within and also in the organisations themselves to see to it that people do not have their own contact with the divine.

And that is of course the pattern of domineering that is repeating itself today. A lot of people, organisations and companies stand to lose a lot of money and power when psychedelics are let free. It is in their interest to keep them illegal. If you could solve addiction, PTSD, depression and such with one or a few psychedelic trips the medical and pharmaceutical industry would take a huge dive. If people would stop tolerating violence that would mean the end of the military and the industries that profit from war. If each and every one would be given the tools for connecting with the divine themselves the world religions would lose their strangle hold on the minds of people.

It is in the interest of anyone who wants to dominate someone else that psychedelics are kept illegal and are continually persecuted.

That is why psychedelics are illegal.

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Setting people up for a bad experience

Generally speaking we get what we expect because when we expect something we will be on the lookout for that experience and we will interpret things with a bias towards what we expect.

With that in mind let me say a few words about drug education in Sweden (although I guess this to be true in many countries). The drug education in Sweden is nothing less than fear mongering propaganda. The entire focus of the education is on dangers, which are either extremely exaggerated or just outright lies. Anyone who uses any substance, no matter how often or why, will be labelled an addict and other views are strictly oppressed. As if that wasn’t bad enough Swedish drug education never teaches people how to handle bad experiences.

So what does all this lead to?

Well, if you are expecting a bad experience you are much more likely to have one, so what the propaganda machine is actually doing is programming people to be afraid and thus making them more susceptible to bad experiences. And when people occasionally do have bad experiences they are not at all equipped to handle them. Now if that isn’t an asshole move I don’t know what is.

Luckily most of us weren’t actually paying attention during class. Looking back I have realized that my drug education didn’t come from school. It came from The Beatles. They didn’t actually talk a lot about drugs, but they sure showed us what great creative fun they can be when done properly.

Photo: The Bandit Beatles by ㇹヮィㇳ on Flickr

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10 questions about drugs

1. Which is the most common rape drug?

2. Which drug is associated with the most violence?

3. Which drug kills most people?

4. What kind of drugs are responsible for the most overdose deaths?

5. Name two drugs that have never killed anyone.

6. Name two drugs that have no or very little addictive properties.

7. Name two drugs that break addiction.

8. Name two drugs that are used to cure depression, trauma and abuse.

9. Which drugs are legal?

10. Which drugs are the most illegal?

 

You’ll find the correct answers below the picture.

Photo: Drug questions by Ano Lobb on Flickr.
Photo: Drug questions by Ano Lobb on Flickr

 

There are obviously legal, country and time specific variations to these answers, but this is the general picture.

1. Which is the most common rape drug?
Alcohol is the most common rape drug. Many think that they need to be wary of people who want to spike their drinks with other drugs, but in the overwhelming majority of cases it is the alcoholic drink itself that is the rape drug. Victims and offenders are often drunk and even when there are other drugs in the mix, alcohol is almost always the main drug.

2. Which drug is associated with the most violence?
Alcohol is involved in most cases of violence. 70 to 90 percent of all violence (wars excluded) is directly linked to alcohol. This is as true for domestic violence as it is for violent encounters between strangers. There are a few other drugs (mainly ego enhancing and consciousness decreasing drugs) that are also associated with violence, but even in cases when other drugs are present alcohol is usually the main drug.

This diagram gives you a hint at how many deaths are attributed to different drugs in the UK 2011. It is however misleading since the tobacco part of the diagram only shows England, while the other circles include all of the UK. In other words, the tobacco circle should be far much bigger than it is in this picture.
This diagram shows you how many deaths were attributed to different drugs in the UK 2011. The very large circle represent deaths due to tobacco and the next biggest one is alcohol. In third place we find opiates and opiate substitutes, which are mostly found in legal medications. In fourth place are legal anti-depressants and in fifth are legal benzodiazepines. In other words, all the big killer drugs except for heroin are legal.

3. Which drug kills most people?
Tobacco is by far the most lethal drug. Tobacco kills more people than all other legal and illegal drugs combined. Alcohol is the second most deadly drug and in third place we find prescription medications. Science is having a hard time putting these in relation to each other, but estimates are that tobacco takes somewhere between two and fifteen times as many lives as alcohol.

4. What kind of drugs are responsible for the most overdose deaths?
Pharmaceutical drugs/prescription medicines are the most commonly overdosed with a deadly outcome. One reason is of course the availability but another very important reason is that medications often are highly toxic.

5. Name two drugs that have never killed anyone.
LSD, cannabis and magic mushrooms are a few non-lethal drugs, but there are certainly more. The doses needed to die from them are simply so ridiculously high that it is physically impossible to consume such quantities of cannabis or mushrooms. In the case of LSD it is probably possible to take that much, but you would need to take thousands of doses and as far as I know that still hasn’t happened. It is of course possible to die in an accident or such while on these drugs, but even so these are not drugs that typically make users accident prone. Science rather suggests that people using these drugs are usually more careful and considerate.

6. Name two drugs that have no or very little addictive properties.

Photo: Hícuri by Mierdamian Rondana on Flickr
Photo: Hícuri by Mierdamian Rondana on Flickr

Psychedelics generally have strong anti-addictive properties and are therefore fantastic for breaking addiction. Some such drugs are LSD, magic mushrooms (psilocybin), San Pedro/Peyote (mescaline), Ayahuasca, DMT, Iboga (ibogaine) and Salvia Divinorum. Another thing that several of the psychedelics have in common is that the user’s tolerance towards them increases rapidly, so even if a user would want to use it several days in a row it would quickly become meaningless to do so because the effects would vanish.

7. Name two drugs that break addiction.
LSD, magic mushrooms and Iboga are all well known in the treatment of addicts, but psychedelics of all kinds can be helpful. Before being made illegal LSD was among other things used to cure alcoholism. AA co-founder Bill Wilson was an advocate of using it specifically to treat cynical alcoholics by giving them a spiritual experience. Ironically LSD had a higher success rate of curing alcoholics than AA or any other program has ever had.

8. Name two drugs that are used to cure depression, trauma and abuse.
Again, psychedelics are fantastic tools for curing depression, trauma and abuse, especially LSD, magic mushrooms, Ayahuasca and San Pedro/Peyote. They make the user more aware of his/her situation and give insights and experiences that help the user deal with past trauma. Within a spiritual context the plants are especially helpful since they actually speak to the user in a way that an isolated substance cannot do.

Western chemical based medicine often uses medications such as anti-depressants but these medicines most often only put a lid on things and sedate the person. These medicines are also highly addictive and toxic, which makes them very dangerous in comparison.

9. Which drugs are legal?
Alcohol and tobacco are legal, although you need to be of a certain age to buy them. Prescription medications are legal as long as you have a prescription.

10. Which drugs are the most illegal?

Contrary to what many think today's drug laws are not based on science but on politics. For example, did you know that the push to make cannabis illegal was mostly based on racism?
Contrary to what many think today’s drug laws are not based on science but on politics. For example, did you know that the push to make cannabis illegal was greatly based on racism?

Class A drugs are defined as drugs that are especially harmful, have a high abuse potential and that have no medical value. Among these you will find heroin, crack, cocaine, cannabis, LSD, magic mushrooms and mescaline. Which class a drug is placed in is however a political decision, not a scientific one. From a strictly scientific point of view this classification is utterly absurd. Heroin and crack would definitely fall within the definition of a class A drug, but so would the legal drugs alcohol and tobacco since they obviously are extremely addictive, harmful and lack all medical value. The psychedelics and cannabis on the other hand are proven to have huge medical value and do very little harm, so they would be stricken if the list was based on science. It appears however that drug policies are among the least scientifically based policies today.

Main photo: fififififiesta! by Adriano Agulló on Flickr

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I do not promote the use of drugs

I have on a few occasions been accused of promoting drugs.

I want to be crystal clear about this.

I DO NOT PROMOTE THE USE OF DRUGS.

By drugs I mean something one uses to flee from or numb oneself, without there being a good reason for doing so. For example, I have nothing against the use of reasonable amounts of painkillers to temporarily deal with pain. But if you start popping painkillers to get high or numb emotional pain that you should be dealing with, then I am against it.

Being against it does not however mean that I think it should be illegal. I do not think anyone should be persecuted or punished for using a plant or substance to flee from or numb themselves. People do so for a reason. They don’t have the tools to deal with pain in life. They are traumatized and hurting. They suffer from addiction, which they have often inherited. People should not be punished for trying to deal with their pain, even if they do so in ways that aren’t good.

All the effort that we are putting into stigmatizing, persecuting and punishing people should be re-directed to helping them heal. We should be giving them the best help we can and nobody should be afraid to ask for help, as people are under the current drug laws. Therefore I promote changing the drug laws radically, since they are causing enormous harm to individuals and to society as a whole.

I do promote the use of PSYCHEDELIC MEDICINE.

I am forever grateful for the healing and guidance that psychedelics have given me. And I have seen so much healing with such medicines. I have seen many breakthroughs that modern medicine could not describe in any other term than miraculous. But having worked with psychedelic medicine in the shamanic tradition I know that it would only be called so for lack of understanding.

Psychedelic medicines aren’t miraculous. They just provide healing that is beyond what many people can comprehend. That people can’t comprehend it doesn’t make it less real. It just means that they do not understand.

Our society is in desperate need of such medicine. We have so much healing that needs to be done. We need to reconnect with our roots, with all living beings, with mother Earth and with the Universe. We desperately need the guidance of the divine within ourselves.

That is what psychedelic medicine can do for us. Is doing for us.

I also promote every persons inherent right to THEIR OWN PATH.

People have free will. We all have a choice to make in every situation. Our choices, good or bad, create our life path and provide us with the lessons we need to learn in life. Trying to strip people of their inherent right to their own bodies, their own life, is the nastiest oppression. Trying to strip people of their free will is as evil as any Auschwitz, Gulag or Killing Fields have ever been. The fact that people try to do so under the pretense that they want to do good, that they want to help, and that they do so using law and state force does not make it any better. In fact it makes it so much worse, because they are unwilling to face and take responsibility for the pain and evil they are inflicting onto others. It is a crime against humanity.

Anyone with a kind heart and a sound mind should be disgusted and outraged by such laws.

So no, I definitely do NOT promote the use of drugs.
I especially do NOT promote the use of harmful drugs,
such as alcohol, nicotine, antidepressants and opiates.
I DO promote helping and healing
our fellow human beings who are in pain.
I DO promote the use of medicine,
psychedelic or otherwise,
that helps.
And I most definitely DO promote human free will
and every person’s right
to their own body and path through life.

Photo: Canopy by David Goehring on Flickr

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A liar claiming the moral high ground

Before I ever came into contact with psychedelics I applied for a job as a prison officer at the Swedish prison Kumla. Before the interview I googled the place and found a freshly released report from the major labour union there. It told of an incredibly stressful workplace with remarkably high and prolonged sick leave rates, of staff being badly treated and not being given the support they needed. It was apparent that the work place was facing real problems and that the workers were deeply discontent with the administration and HR department. I printed a copy to read on my way there.

The interview went well until the HR person asked:
– Have you ever tried any drugs?
– Yes, I smoked some weed when I was travelling in Asia, I answered truthfully.
– Oh dear, he said, shaking his head seriously.
Then he gave me a short but harsh lecture on how it was morally reprehensible to have tried something that was illegal under Swedish law, how this reflected badly on me as a person and how the Swedish prison system must maintain very high morals. He really took his time to emphasize the immorality of my actions versus the high morals of the Swedish prison system.

After that it was my turn to ask questions.
– Is the staff here happy with their work situation? I asked.
– Oh yes, everyone loves it here. It is a great place to work. We are like one big family.
– Are there any complaints among the staff?
– None. Here we really care for each other.
He was committed to telling me what a splendid work place Kumla was and avoided every chance I gave him to acknowledge the problems I had read about and tell me what they were doing to turn things around. After having given him far more than a fair amount of chances I reached into my backpack, pulled out the report and without saying a word placed it on the desk in front of him. I then just looked at the man as he sunk through the floor, embarrassed beyond words. No lecture was needed.

Photo: Prison Window by Derek Key on Flickr

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Psychedelics, plant teachers or whatever you want to call them

First of all it is important to point out that all words are made up. People have had a good think and come up with a word which in some cases has caught on. But understand this – they are all make-believe. Even the most precise of words with the clearest of definitions is made up by someone.

The meaning of a word is determined by the consensus people find around it. Some words have very precise meanings, such as the word centimetre. Other words have a general consensus, but can still be open to interpretation at some point, such as the word chair or forest. Yet other words are the cause of constant quarrel. What is art? Define love. Describe ego.

When it comes to words describing experiences and plants or substances with psychedelic properties there are many different words, but little actual consensus, in part because we are still in the process of trying to agree on them. There is often no exact right or wrong, but as with most things there are plenty of people with strong opinions on the subject. But just so that we are clear about this – those opinions are made up about words that are made up. In the end it is all make-believe.

Since there is still little consensus on these words it is important to ask the person using them what they mean by them, because what the words mean to them might be very different from what they mean to you. And if you are getting worked up about what they mean to you only to find out much later that they mean something totally different to them… well, it’s a whole lot of arguing about absolutely nothing.

It is also important to understand that the words and definitions we use are a reflection of what we need them for. A scientist needs very well-defined words, so the wording is very precise. This often leads to the words being quite complicated, because in the scientific world it is not a problem if a word is complicated, as long as it is well-defined.

I am not a scientist. My goal is not to be precise, but rather to be understandable. In order to help people I need them to understand what I am saying, which they won’t do if I use a scientific jargon. I need words that people at least have a clue about, and then we can take it from there.

So let’s talk about some of the words that are floating around out there.

Plants and substances

This is a distinction where there is much consensus, but which still causes confusion, especially for people who do not work with such things. A plant is something you will find growing in nature. It can be a cactus like the San Pedro or a vine like the Banisteriopsis caapi, which is used in the brew Ayahuasca. The psilocybin mushroom is by a biologist’s definition not a plant but a fungi, but for the sake of making this understandable I group it with the plants, because it is something that grows in nature.

A substance on the other hand is an isolated molecule or combination of molecules. It is something that a person has isolated, extracted or produced. Mescaline is a substance which one can get from San Pedro, DMT is a substance which can be found in Ayahuasca and psilocybin is a substance which can be found in certain mushrooms.

It is important, at least from a shamanic perspective, not to confuse these with each other. Eating a San Pedro cactus is not the same as eating mescaline. The San Pedro is a plant and as a plant it has a spirit connected to it. Or to put it in other words, it is alive and is able to communicate with us. Mescaline might give some similar effects, but there is no spirit there to communicate with.

Let’s take one of my favourite substances as an example. Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) is a substance in the meaning that it is an isolated molecule which does not have a spirit attached to it, in the shamanic sense of things. It is a very powerful medicine to work with and many of the effects might seem similar to mushrooms or cacti, but when working with it one is not doing so with the help of a spirit which is attached to the substance.

While all this is perfectly clear for people who work with such things, it is often very confusing for people who for example make and enforce laws. They often name a substance and confuse it for the plant, or the other way around. In a shamanic setting it is a world of difference and it is well understood that a plant cannot be reduced to a certain substance contained within it, because it will be missing the spirit.

What are these plants/fungi being called?

Madarchen hud by Nic Dafis on Flickr
Madarchen hud by Nic Dafis on Flickr.

When writing this I asked people for the words they use for such plants. One person simply replied Teacher. Short and to the point. This is a common perception and while it might be figuratively speaking for some, most who say it mean it literally. They see the plant as a spirit separate from themselves who teaches them things, and this is an understanding which has been around for thousands of years in the cultural settings in which such plants have been used. It is a term that not only conveys what the spirit does, but it is also a word which shows respect.

In that cultural setting it would be disrespectful to confuse for example the San Pedro cactus with the word mescaline. It would be disrespectful in the same manner as if you called your university professor Book. Your professor is as little a Book as San Pedro is Mescaline.

A similarly respectful and common expression is Master plant. It says with all clarity that this is no silly little spirit, but a spirit worth listening to carefully. It is also common to call the plants by what help they give, such as Medicine plant or Visionary plant. They are medicine. They give vision.

A few people called them Spirit helper or Spirit guide. It still conveys the sense of there being another intelligence, but for me those terms carry a different meaning that are not connected to a plant.

Sht my Dad paints by Ryan on Flickr
Sht my Dad paints by Ryan on Flickr

Other words that try to capture the essence of these plants and substances

The fact that we are dealing with both plants and substances which have similar properties does confuse the situation. While the plant spirits have been known in shamanic use for many millennia they are still quite new to us in the modern world. These things haven’t really been known to us for more than a century, and to a broader public only half that time.

One thing that we are very good at in this modern world is playing with words, so it comes as no surprise that there is a wealth of different words trying to describe these plants, substances and experiences. Some are quite good while others are awful. Many are catchy and accessible, while others confuse things even more. Here come some of the ones that I like better:

Psychedelics

The best thing about the word psychedelic is that it is well-known. People at least have a vague idea what it is, and even though the ideas might be off, it is a starting ground.

The term means “mind revealing” and is derived from the Greek psyche (soul, mind) and delein (to manifest). It was coined by the British psychiatrist Humphry Osmond in 1957. At the time he and Aldous Huxley were discussing what to call these wonderful plants and substances. Huxley sent Osmond a rhyme with the word he preferred: “To make this trivial world sublime, take half a gram of phanerothyme” (thymos meaning ‘spiritedness’ in Greek.) Osmond wrote back “To fathom Hell or soar angelic, just take a pinch of psychedelic.

I wanted to share that story with you to show the playfulness and ingenuity that bright minds have put into making these words up.

Personally I think it is a word which is very suitable and it can be used for plants and substances alike. They are truly soul and mind revealing. They put us in direct contact with our inner workings, with or without the help of a spirit.

It is also a word that is easy to connect with other words, such as psychedelic mushroom, psychedelic medicine or psychedelic therapy. In that way it is good for communicating, which suites me.

I have heard several negative remarks about the word. A shaman friend of mine dismisses the word because it somehow doesn’t take the plants spirit into account. It reduces the plant to a mere substance, is the argument. I do not agree. There is nothing inherent in the word which says that it refers to a substance or which excludes a spirit. Those restrictions are not in the word itself, but in the critics own head.

Hallucinogens

Psychedelicological III by Derrick Tyson on Flickr
Psychedelicological III by Derrick Tyson on Flickr

This is another word which I like, but which is often (mis)understood in ways that narrow it down to something it doesn’t inherently need to be. The word hallucination was coined by Sir Thomas Browne in 1646 from the Latin alucinari meaning “to wander in the mind”.

That word goes well together with the notion that a hallucination is a visual projection of what is going on in the mind, which many such experiences obviously are. But many visual effects on such plants and substances are not projections of what is going on in our mind, which leaves many feeling that the word is incorrect. Many visual effects are universal and people report similar geometrical patterns, energy trails and other visual experiences that seem to emanate outside themselves.

I find that the anthropologist Jeremy Narby explains this wonderfully in his book The Cosmic Serpent where he studies shamans of the Amazon and compares their knowledge to Western scientific knowledge. There he makes a difference between inner and outer hallucinations. Inner hallucinations are projections of what is going on in our own mind, while outer hallucinations are things that are really there, but which are normally hidden from us. These outer hallucinations can be things like auras, spirits, energetic patterns and the fabric of existence. It is all there even when we don’t see it and what the plants and substances do is open us up to being able to see.

If the word hallucination or hallucinogen is used to only mean “projections of your own mind” it is not a suitable word to describe these plants and substances, since it leads us to believe that what we are experiencing only originates from within. If the word is used to mean inner AND outer hallucinations, then I find it to be very accurate. The visual effects are projections of what is going on inside AND they also reveal other realities to us.

Entheogens

The word entheogen was coined in 1979 by a group of ethnobotanists who wanted to capture the spiritual aspect of the experience. This also comes from Greek and is made up of entheos (full of god, inspired) and genesthai (to come into being). An entheogen is a plant or substance which wakes the God within, which inspires us, especially in a spiritual way.

I like this word because it captures the spiritual aspect in a way that the other words don’t. These plants and substances are to a very high degree being used in spiritual settings and with spiritual intentions, so it is fitting to have a word which highlights this.

I once channelled information from the spirit world about how dangerous drugs are. After having a list of different plants and substances I noticed that some were obviously missing. There was no mention of mushrooms, LSD or DMT. When I asked why the answer was very clear. “Many people have completely misunderstood these plants and substances. They are not drugs. They are keys to speak to the Gods.”

I couldn’t agree more. That is the most common view among people who work with such plants and substances in a serious manner, and that is also why no amount of legislation can ever stop people from using them. It is simply ridiculous to think that people will obey laws that try to stop them from speaking to God or themselves.

Substances of essence

This is not an expression I have heard being used, but when I asked for words someone wrote this. I think it is a wonderful expression, because it shows that respect can be directed towards a substance too. While I have heard several in spiritual settings dismiss substances and molecules, they are also truly miraculous and hold as much healing power as many plants. I find such dismissal to be disrespectful and lacking in knowledge in the same way that others disrespect the plant spirits out of lack of knowledge.

A couple of words I think are really bad

Dr. Mom by Bart Everson on Flickr.
Dr. Mom by Bart Everson on Flickr.

Drugs/dope. No one who has the slightest knowledge on the subject would use such words about plants or substances with psychedelic properties. When you hear someone using these words it is a red flag clearly stating “I have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about”. Unfortunately drug laws are often written and upheld by people who haven’t a clue.

Phanerothyme. I’m just using this as an example among many similar words. It translates into “producing visable feelings”. The person who created this might have put a lot of thought into it and the meaning might be quite true, but trying to communicate it is horrible. It is bulky, hard to pronounce, hard to combine with other words and nobody has the slightest idea what it means. It might work with a scientific intention, but in everyday communication I wouldn’t touch it with a ten foot pole.

In conclusion

There are a lot of good words out there and there are a few bad ones too. Use the good ones and let the bad ones die. But perhaps more importantly, there are good and bad interpretations of the words.

If you meet someone who uses the words in a way that you don’t think you agree with, don’t take for granted that you don’t agree with one another. Simply ask them what they mean and have a friendly talk about your different choices in words. In many cases we get tangled up in trying to say that something is right and something else is wrong. When we do so we are missing the crucial point – it is all made up. Our language is make-believe. We often confuse the use of different vocabulary with being of different opinions.

Another point that I see in all this is that although there are several very good words out there, these plants, substances and experiences are so diverse and complex that they are hard to capture in a single word. Any way you choose to describe them you will automatically be missing other crucial points. The plant is a teacher, but is that all it is? Yes, these plants and substances help us sort out our inner workings, but is that all they do? Yes, they cause inner and outer hallucinations, but is that what it is all about?

I don’t think that the solution to all this is to make up yet more words, trying to capture that which cannot be captured. I think a good lesson is to simply understand that language itself is a limitation.

Main photo: A bumble bee hovering over a lavendar bloom by Steve Slater on Flickr

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Hallucinogens to heal emotional instability

Hello Daniel,

I’m a 25 year old student of anthropology, sociology and psychology. School is working out well, I take relatively good care of my health and keep the house relatively clean. I am also one of the broken souls that never feels really good. I suspect that I suffer from some emotional disturbance, because I have high peaks where I think I’m better than everyone else, and then I fall into a black hole where I find it very difficult to function normally. Right now I’m in one of those holes, and have been for approximately 4 months (with some bright days/hours). I have previously used antidepressant tablets on a daily basis to stabilize my mood and make life easier, but I stopped because it felt as if I lost a part of myself. And I wasn’t actually rid of my anxiety. I was just somewhat better at dealing with it when it arrived and my panic attacks were less turbulent. Now things are so bad that I am strongly considering going back to them. I have suicidal thoughts and isolate myself completely without external reasons. I absolutely don’t want to die, but I feel weak by the mere thought of life just continuing like this.

I have seen some documentaries and read a lot about how hallucinogens affect our brains and that there is reason to believe that it changes the way we think about the world in the same way as religious experiences might change people’s lives. I have tried it myself a few times, though in recreational context, and last year when I tried truffles I got an incredibly wonderful feeling of my actual place in the world which persisted for several weeks. Then after a while the negative thoughts came back again and with them doubts that these drugs actually help – maybe they just take me farther away from “reality”.

Now I have thought again, and you confirmed what I thought of. Maybe I’ll try to actually medicate myself and give it more than just once. Just the thought that perhaps it can help me stay of the antidepressants makes the world feel a little brighter. Do you think it can help with emotional instability, in the same way as it helps against depression? And if so, which kind of dose would be best?

Thanks in advance!

Sincerely
Ann

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Hi Ann,

thank you for an interesting email that raises many thoughts. As you can probably understand, I would have to have a private session with you to be able to give you specific personal advice, but I can discuss some of the issues you raise in a broad sense.

Since you mention suicide, I would like to start off by saying a few words on the subject. I had a friend who chose to commit suicide and several years later I managed to get in touch with him in spirit. He said that there are lives when one needs to experience suicide, but pointed out that it isn’t a choice like any else. If one ends one’s life without having finished one’s life lessons/challenges, you will need to do it all over again in the next life. To kill oneself to avoid a challenge is thus counterproductive, because you will need to redo the whole thing and will suffer in the same way for yet another life. With that in mind, I would like to say like my friend – dare to live.

With that said, let’s move on to your main question of whether hallucinogens can be good tools for working with your mood, and if so, how.

Hallucinogens are excellent tools for aiding in healing depression, emotional instability and such conditions. I have myself healed from severe depression with LSD and have seen many others do the same with mushrooms, San Pedro, Ayahuasca, and even Cannabis. I would however not recommend Cannabis initially, because it is the only one of the plants and substances that I have listed that I perceive has an actual addictive potential, and at the same time it is not as potent as the other plants/substances.

There are plenty of stories of miraculous healing with these plants and substances, but I want to discourage you from approaching them as some kind of quick fix. Sure, you might fix your emotional instability with a single trip, but it is much more likely that you need to put a lot of work into healing yourself. The plant or substance in that context is only a tool. You will need to do the work to heal yourself, so be prepared for that.

What to do first?

Without knowing much about your specific problems I would probably first advise you to clean out your life. Your mood originates from somewhere; possibly from old wounds and relationships. If there is too much other clutter, you will need to spend a lot of time cleaning it all out of the way, instead of diving into the core of things. Therefore, you should get rid of as much clutter as possible in advance, in your everyday life.

First off – promise yourself to recover and to do whatever you need to do so. Then examine your life and remove everything that is not favorable to you. They might include things, relationships, ways of seeing reality, and more. Remove anything that does not benefit you. There are certain things that you should really get rid of completely, because they disrupt your energy structure: alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, drugs (here I do not count hallucinogens) and sex where you do not respect yourself. The first two are particularly important, as they clog the body’s energy structure and are in their very essence self-destructive.

Once you’ve done that, I would consider that you are ready to begin working with hallucinogens for healing.

How do I work with hallucinogens?

Once again I feel I should point out that you would need to book a private session with me for proper counseling. The answers I can give you here are general.

There are two questions that I think would be good for you to ask yourself initially:
1. Do I need a shaman/therapist/guide?
2. What plant or substance should I work with?

Based on what you have written, I think it would be wise for you to work with a shaman/therapist who not only knows hallucinogens, but who also understand the kind of mental states that you are struggling with. Someone like me could help with such things as:
● To help you prepare for your trip/trips
● To maintain a safe and secure place for you to meet and work with yourself
● During the trip to do things like clearing away blockages, parasitic energies, conveying messages from spirit helpers or channeling healing energy
● During and after the trip to be your mirror and discussion partner
● After the trip to help you structure your continued work and help you maintain your focus

Some people can do all this themselves, because they have an innate ability to work with their own development, but I feel that far from all can do so. Many instead risk going wrong, getting trapped, or even being frightened by the experience and taking several steps backwards. If you feel with you that you cannot do this by yourself, I would advise you to work with someone who can support you. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a shaman or therapist, but could also be a friend who has the knowledge and the abilities that I have described.

Plant/substance and dose

It is impossible for me to say in advance what kind of dose you should have. I always double check what dose a client should have before a session. Usually I do so with tarot cards, but I also use my common sense. I generally prefer high doses, because it will lower your defenses and allow to quickly go in depth with the actual problem. But what is an average dose for one person can be a high dose of another, so you need to determine the dose on an individual basis.

Which plant or substance is most appropriate in your case is in the same way hard for me to speculate. That is also something I would check in advance. Usually I find that it is clear which plant, substance and even who you should work with, because they tend to appear when you are ready. If you need LSD, LSD will come knocking at your door and if you are meant to work with a specific shaman/therapist, your attention will be directed to them.

Set reasonable expectations

Hallucinogens are surrounded by an almost magical aura. I have seen many miraculous events on hallucinogens, but to expect a miracle is not reasonable. If you are supposed to have a miracle, it will come to you, but it’s much more likely that you need to work devotedly to recover. Get ready to do so.

It is reasonable to expect that you will devote considerable attention to this for at least a year and during that time you might need to take several trips. Periodically you may even have to trip quite often. But tripping is not the thing. The trip shakes things up and loosens things, but it is between trips, in your sober state, that you will need to work actively to translate the insights that you got into your normal life.

For example, if you come to realize that you are making yourself ill through the relationships you have, with what you eat or how you behave, you will need to sort those things out. Although it can happen, it is not a reasonable expectation that the hallucinogens will collect all that is bothering you and remove it. You will need to do that work.

Photo: Bang-bang by Yuliya Libkina on Flickr

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Substance abuse is in the person, not in the substance

Substance abuse is part of the person, not the substance.

That people feel the need to numb themselves, to switch off and escape, is almost always a result of something within that is really uncomfortable and hard to handle. Some have been abused, lost someone they love, been bullied or otherwise traumatized. Others feel bad in less visible ways. They suffer from anxiety, low self-esteem, they feel unimportant or unloved.

Many who flee into addiction have that in common that they lack other ways to cope. They stun themselves to escape. There are many ways to numbing oneself, many of which are legal but equally destructive as the illegal ways. The most obvious way is to numb oneself with drugs, where alcohol is the most common but also one of the most dangerous escape drugs. There are of course plenty of more or less dangerous substances, such as heroin, amphetamines and Spice. But if we really want to remedy abuse we need to understand that it is just as easy to abuse such things as gambling, sex, food and relationships.

The big problem with the Swedish drug policy is that it lacks this basic understanding. It chases symptoms (substances) instead of the root causes that drive people to flee from themselves. It is inherent in the very name – drug policy. It’s not an abuse policy. It’s not a policy of well-being. Everything prohibitionists have to say seems to focus almost solely on the substances.

The same backwards approach recurs in school drug education. The education essentially only tries to scare students from trying drugs. They are bombarded with terrible stories of drug abuse and a long list of negative effects that drugs can have. When I look back at my own education, I think it is remarkable that it never offered a single tool to take care of my mental health.

If we really want to reduce substance abuse we first need to help people to feel good. If we want people to feel good, we need to 1) not traumatize them, and 2) give them the tools to deal with the trauma that they will still be exposed to. If we really want to protect our young from abuse, we need to give them the tools to manage tough experiences in life, to process abuse, to handle losses and deal with bullying. They need to feel loved and important and included and given the opportunity to build a strong sense of self.

And those who still fall into addiction because they cannot find another way, we need to help. To help is something we do far too rarely today. Instead we pour our resources into chasing, controlling, forcing and punishing people. It is not only extremely costly for society, but it helps to perpetuate the problem. People do not recover by being systematically stigmatized, just as we cannot get children to stop fighting by beating sense into their heads.

Today’s drug policy is fundamentally flawed because it focuses on drugs, instead of focusing on people. Tear up the legislation and start over. Focus on people’s well-being. Redirect resources to not only help those stuck in addiction, but also to give everyone access to the tools to heal themselves from whatever they might want to flee from. In this way we will not only deal with abuse, but we will also put an end to a war that society wages against its own people and that it cannot possibly win.

Photo: Nalewka by The Integer Club on Flickr

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