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.
But 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.”
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.
While 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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
Many years back I had a bottle of LSD with only a few drops left. One evening I emptied the bottle in my mouth, filled it with a little water, shook it and took that too. The dose was way higher than I had anticipated and left me quite incapacitated. There was absolutely no risk to it, but I did spend a lot of time crawling on the floor as the universe opened up before my eyes and gave me lessons on perspectives.
At that time I was spiritually awakening but I hadn’t connected to my inner shaman, so I was quite surprised at the long sequence of automated behaviour that followed. I was fully aware of what my body was doing, but I was not doing it. There was no thought, only automated actions and it was obvious that my body knew how to do them.
In this mode of automated action I stood up on unsteady legs and I then smudged my entire home for the first time ever. There was chanting and speaking coming from my mouth, but I was not creating it. It was just there, flowing through me. When I came to the kitchen I got all the food out and I sorted it into food with good and food with bad energy. As before there was no thought behind it. There was no “oh, I should have a look at my food” and no “is this good or bad for me?”. I simply took something and the feeling in me quickly determined if it was good or bad. Unsurprisingly locally produced ecological wholesome foods were good and sugary snacks and foods grown with poison were bad. Half my food got sorted out that evening and was shipped off the next morning.
This automated action continued for what seemed to be several hours. It was my first glimpse into ancient knowledge that I have amassed during past lives as a shaman. I didn’t understand that back then, but it has become ever clearer to me over the years. We have all lived many lives and it is common that we tap into the knowledge we have from past lives. I have had many past lives as a shaman, so naturally that knowledge runs deep in me. It is the same with anything that takes up much of your time. I had a friend that was a natural when it came to music. Looking back into his past lives he had many lifetimes as a musician.
In this life I don’t have access to all my previous knowledge, but it quickly reveals itself to me when I am faced with a situation where it is needed. I also recognize techniques, tools and such when I see them and having used them before I quickly adapt them to work for me. The feeling it gives is that I am not actually learning things – I am simply remembering them. The difference is paramount.
Photo: The Burning Fields by Lies Thru a Lens on Flickr
I’m going to need some really bad-ass children and grandchildren, because my last wishes aren’t for whimps. My first one isn’t really one of my absolute last. It’s on the way there – at the last stop, so to say.
I want a steady supply of the good drugs at the retirement home. Please don’t pump me full of antidepressants and other pharmaceutical shit. Give grandpa the good stuff! Smuggle me in LSD, shrooms and cannabis. Let me leave this world in a mash-up of Huxley’s LSD death and the Boom main stage dance floor.
…and when I do go…
Kidnap my corpse and bury me in the forest. I want my body to go back to nature properly. Let me be food for worms, mushrooms and trees. I don’t want to be burnt or stuck in grave yard as fertilizer of a bizarre belief system. Please, please, please – kidnap my body and bury it in the woods where it belongs, somewhere no one will ever find me.
Those are my last wishes.
Honour them if you dare.
When I first began tripping I got to know a girl who didn’t really need to take LSD to get the full experience. She simply hung around other people who did and picked up on their energy. At the time I thought it was quite astonishing, but over the years I have come to accept it as something very normal.
A few years back I went to a tribal trance gathering and before even having taken anything I was tripping balls. There were so many people using psychedelics there that the atmosphere gave me full on psychedelic effects, including telepathy and visuals. It was powerful, yet pleasant.
Not so pleasant was the Swedish midsummer party that I went to a couple of years ago. There the main two drugs were alcohol and cannabis. I was the designated driver so I was completely sober, but I was drunk, stoned, confused and sick to my stomach. Other drugs that I have been nauseated by without actually using them have been caffeine, Red Bull and nicotine.
I have also noticed that it is common to pick up on the general drug energy, even when you have taken something different. If a sensitive person smokes pot while others drink, there is a good chance that the person will end up drunk instead of stoned. Or at least be more drunk than stoned.
I don’t know if there is a scientific explanation to all this. It would be very interesting to know. What I am totally sure about is that it is true. It is not only possible for sensitive people to pick up the energy of the drug others are using – it is both easy and common.
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,
And I most definitely DO promote human free will
and every person’s right
to their own body and path through life.
Slavery was legal.
Apartheid was legal.
The inquisition was legal.
It is legal to poison children with sugar and fat.
Cutting down vast forests, eradicating whole species and threatening life on earth is legal.
Testing nukes, supplying dictatorships with weapons and bombing the shit out of people seems to be legal.
In some cultures it’s legal to stone homosexuals.
Where I live homosexuality used to be illegal.
Then for a long while it was ‘only’ considered to be a sickness.
Only recently has it become legal for homosexuals to marry here.
It is legal to make laws that discriminate and hinder people from living a full life.
And it is legal to use the laws to harass and persecute groups of people.
We don’t want to admit it, but we have plenty of laws that are racist, sexist and in other ways discriminating.
At the same time it is illegal to heal in ways that aren’t state approved.
It is illegal for you to smoke a joint for your pain or take LSD to release trauma.
And if your spiritual practice involves psychedelics you can still get in trouble in many countries.
The law does not grant you the right to your own body.
It does not grant you the right to your own healing and growth.
Your life is only yours within the limits of the law and if you deviate you can be fined, end up in prison for however long someone else thinks is reasonable or even be killed.
Do not confuse legal with moral. And do not imagine that you can claim a moral high ground because you follow the law. You can be immoral to the core, a liar, a cheat and an oppressor and still be a law abiding citizen. In fact, if you are a law abiding citizen your morals probably have quite a few weak spots. If you are high up enough in the political hierarchy you can legally get away with mass murder. The rest of us can wash our hands of blood and clear our conscience by simply voting for someone else to make the nasty decisions.
This is saying quite a lot about the legal system and our moral obligation to follow the law. If your moral compass is working you have no moral obligation to follow the law. Your obligation is to follow your conscience. The law is primarily for people who do not have a working moral compass.
If you put law before morals you are weak. If you are weak you should not try to claim the moral high ground, because it is not yours to claim. Lions like Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr get to claim the moral high ground. You are a sheep. Your place is with the law abiding herd. Baa.
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?
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.
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:
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Before you consider working with visionary plants or other psychedelic medicines it is helpful to ask yourself why you want to do so. Your purpose for using a plant or substance is very important for the outcome and you will want to create an environment for your experience that matches your purpose.
I have identified four reasons for using substances, but there are certainly many more.
Recreational use Many use plants or substances simply to have fun and explore. They take it at a party or for an adventure with friends. The altered states that psychedelics provide are often very pleasant and uplifting, and at the same time often feel very meaningful. Some plants and substances fit well in a social context, while others do not.
Medicinal use Visionary plants and psychedelics are powerful tools for healing emotionally and mentally, but sometimes also physically. They often bring clarity to the situation and give tools, which is a starting point for working with one’s self-healing. It is also common for them to lower mental barriers or defences you might have towards dealing with a situation. This makes them powerful tools for deep therapeutic work where breakthrough experiences are common, but working in that way takes courage, safety and it is advisable to have an experienced person by your side.
Spiritual use Visionary plants have been used in spiritual practice for many thousands of years and all over the globe. The plants themselves have spirits that communicate with us and are often respectfully referred to as teachers. Working from a spiritual understanding opens up possibilities to such things as being in contact with the spirit world, receiving messages from the other side or other entities, extracting intruding entities, working with past life issues, and so on. Here it is equally important to have courage, work in a safe environment and to have an experienced person by your side. For someone who works with visionary plants and psychedelics at this level there is often no strict division between medicinal use and spiritual use, since the spiritual work has healing effects.
AbUse Abuse is important to be aware about, but it is uncommon that people abuse visionary plants or certain psychedelics. They are well renowned for being anti-addictive and often break abusive cycles, which make them excellent for treating and even curing addiction.
Am I ready?
Why are you considering visionary plants or psychedelic medicines? Many who consciously seek such paths feel stuck in one way or another. They come looking for healing and insight and a way to get unstuck. In some cases people are so intrigued by the medicine that they forget to ask themselves if they actually need it. They can often do more good for themselves by simple means of working out, eating healthier, taking up a meditation practice, doing yoga, making other life style choices and such.
Visionary plants and psychedelics are very powerful tools for working with personal and spiritual development and should be treated with respect. They should not be confused with drugs. To work with visionary plants or psychedelics you need to be mentally prepared to meet whatever comes up. If you know that you are not prepared to see and work through that which you have stored away sub-consciously, you should definitely not use these tools.
If you on the other hand are committed to healing and growing and want to gain access to knowledge so that you can help yourself, then visionary plants and psychedelics might be the closest thing to a miracle that you can find.
There might be medical reasons for you not to use certain plants or substances. Check reliable sources for what might be relevant to you. Your shaman, guide or therapist should be able to help you out. In countries where such medicines are legal it might also be good also to ask your medical doctor.
It is not uncommon to be asked to hold a diet or do other lifestyle changes before or after working with visionary plants and psychedelics. If you do a one day fast before it is mainly to prepare your body and make the effect more powerful, but if you are asked to do a longer diet the diet is often also part of your healing.
It should be noted that the most popular visionary plants and psychedelic medicines are physically very safe to work with. Practically nobody dies from them. The potential risks are rather at the mental level, where people who are not willing to change can have very challenging and even terrifying experiences. The problem in that case is not the medicine, but the person’s unwillingness to work with what comes up. Such risks are greatly reduced when working under guidance with a therapeutic or spiritual intention.
There is a general caution when it comes to people who suffer from severe mental illness, such as schizophrenia. The fear is that the plants or substances might trigger the person to become even more sick. There are however other ways of understanding those illnesses. If the illness for example actually is a parasitic energy attached to the person, then visionary plants can be ideal to work with under the guidance of a shaman or such.
The clearer your intention, the easier it will often be for you to find answers, simply because it will focus you in that direction. Some intentions are very precise, such as finding the answer to a specific question. Other intentions can be very broad, but still not vague. Saying “Give me what I need and the strength to handle it” for example.
The mere fact that you are setting a conscious intention sends out the signal that you are open for receiving and working with yourself, which will make it easier to receive and work with yourself. Not setting an intention sends out an unconscious garbled signal possibly inviting things that you are not ready to work with.
I do however have the feeling that the plants consciously don’t give me what I want, but what I need. If my intention is in line with what is best for me, then the answers will be very clear. If my intentions are off, then they won’t be answered. If that happens it is important to be open to listen for what is really best for me.
Promise to yourself
One part to the intention and mental preparation that I find most helpful is to consciously and solemnly promise yourself to deal with whatever comes up. However challenging, hard or nasty it is, you will be courageous, face it and work through it. Having promised yourself to do so, you will be less likely to try to avoid unpleasant challenges, and meeting them head on you will surely solve them.
Set & setting
The concept of set and setting is a great tool for understanding some of the basic steps that lead you to have a certain experience.
Set, as in mindset Where are you mentally and emotionally right now? What is going on inside you? What is going on in your life? Your experience will in one way or another reflect what is going on with you and what you need in life right now. To be safe you should be in a mindset where you are prepared and capable to handle the challenges you face.
Someone who is unstable and unwilling to face themselves and make changes in their life should not take visionary plants or psychedelics. If one for example uncovers disturbing hidden memories and then tries to suppress them again, there is a risk of re-traumatizing oneself. The same mechanism that can make it a miracle plant or substance for some, can make it a hellish nightmare for others. When we use visionary plants and psychedelics we often delve into the subconscious and find new things to bring to the conscious level. From the conscious level we can then begin working with it in order to heal and grow. One needs to be ready to take that ride.
Setting Is simply the surroundings. Who are you with? Where are you? Do you feel safe? My best experiences have been by myself, with one other person or with a small group of friends that I like and feel safe with. It has always been understood that we take care of each other if anything happens. And above all, they have taken place in nature.
In your mind, place yourself in different places and with different people and feel the vibe of them and how well that reflects what you want to accomplish. A garden. A national park. In a cabin by a lake. In an art studio. At a rave party. In a pub. In a hospital. In a car. On a boat. In a ceremony. With a shaman. With friends. With bullies. With drunks. With your parents. In a messy dorm room. On a tropical beach. In a hut in the rainforest.
There are so many variations and some of them are obviously bad. Make yours good. Reports of bad trips almost always begin with the person not knowing about or ignoring to create the right set and setting.
Navigating the psychedelic experience
Go with the flow
The very best way to meet that which is challenging or even frightening is by accepting and diving right into it. Meet your fears head on by accepting and working through that which scares you. When you do so you will eventually resolve whatever is bothering you and come out on the other side, wiser and free of it. As long as you try to avoid whatever it is you will still in some way be trapped by it. Distracting yourself won’t solve your problem, but only add stress to it.
Unfortunately many are so used to avoiding discomfort that it seems counter-intuitive to face what is troubling you. Instead of meeting the discomfort it is common now-a-days to put a lid on things, distract ourselves or even sedate ourselves. That attitude can be very harmful when we work with plants or psychedelics, since they work in the opposite direction by raising our awareness and pointing us to the real issue.
While there are those who warn people to get in contact with their subconscious, that is the whole point of the exercise with visionary plants and psychedelics. So when you are faced by something, however awful it might seem, your best response is to accept it and go with the flow. Work through it and come out on the other side.
Acceptance is an important step
The first step in working with change is to bring awareness to the situation. We need to become aware that change is needed, but to be able to change we also need to accept how things are right now. It doesn’t mean that we need to approve of how things are, be ok with them, or anything like it. It just means that you need to accept the current situation as it really is in order to change it. Otherwise your actions will at best be misdirected, and at worst harmful for your growth.
Being aware and having accepted what is leads you on to be able to work with your change. The actual change might be quick like turning on a switch, or it might take much hard work. When you have worked through it all it is important also to acknowledge it by being grateful. Those who forget to be grateful often forget what they have to be grateful for.
One major aspect of plant teachers and psychedelics is to help us in that process. They help us bring awareness and often also show us how we need to change, but for the healing and growing to take place we need to accept how things are and put in the necessary work to change ourselves.
Changing the variables of setting
When you feel bad during a journey it can be because you actually have something that you need to deal with. In that case, accept it and dive right in. There are however times when people feel bad without being able to locate why. When the discomfort isn’t caused by something internal, it is caused by something external. When it is external simple changes in your environment can very quickly make you feel better. You can for example try this:
change your body position
look at your bodily needs. Do you need to go to the bathroom, drink something or are you hot/cold?
change the music, turn it off/on
change the lighting
change what you’re doing
change rooms or go outside/inside
Any one of these variables and many more like them can affect your wellbeing without you even noticing it. By deliberately changing them you can figure out where the problem lies. The setting you have chosen has its own map of possibilities that can be changed to change the way you feel, for good and bad.
Change is the only constant
Nothing lasts forever. The effects of the plant or substance that you have taken will eventually fade away. Whatever you are experiencing right now will soon be no more than a memory. This can be comforting to remember when things are especially challenging. If someone is having a hard time and needs comforting, remind them that this too will pass.
You should plan your journey so that this information is never needed, but if you really need to land from the experience you should eat. We raise our vibration when we work with visionary plants and psychedelics, so by eating we lower ourselves again. Food is earth and helps you find roots, but it can be quite a challenge to eat in that state since even a watermelon might taste like soil. Eating to land is a safe and natural way of landing, but it takes time and you will still feel some effects. It is also possible to cut the energy of some plants with lemon or chilli. I would definitely not recommend alcohol or other drugs or medicines to come down.
Calling the police/ambulance
A few people get the knee-jerk reaction to call the police if things get scary. In most cases it is a really bad idea to ask help from the police, since they really have no idea what they are dealing with. Their training does not include how to take care of tripping people and that insensitivity can be quite disrupting or even traumatizing. But of course, if there is a real emergency where the police or ambulance is needed – call them.
A spiritual perspective
The traditions that have worked with these visionary plants for many millennia are spiritual. They take into account such things as other realities, spirits, intrusive energies and past lives. The plants themselves are entities that can be communicated with and they are often honourably referred to as teachers. The plant teachers are naturally occurring and among others include San Pedro, Peyote, psilocybin mushrooms and Ayahuasca. These all have powerful entities connected to them who often heal and teach us things.
Chemical substances such as LSD do not have entities attached to them. LSD can give many of the same effects by unleashing the persons own potential, but without the support of a plant entity, what comes out of it is left up to the person who has taken the substance.
These traditions also work with the understanding that people have an energetic body where blockages can lead to physical illness later on.
Respecting the substance and yourself
If one understands that the plants are actually powerful entities who help us work with ourselves, it goes without saying that one should meet them in a respectful manner. In traditional settings that is reflected in the ceremony, but respectful should not be confused with tradition or ceremony. Being respectful means being of good intention, willing to better yourself and treating the plant as the teacher and helper that it is. Respectful is making the effort to integrate the insights you have gained. Respect can be seen in how we prepare ourselves for meeting the plant, in what setting we choose, what clothes we wear and how we treat and help those we journey with.
There are certainly many ways of being disrespectful, but some of the more common are using the plant as a drug, using it with bad intentions and mixing it with other plants or substances. If you want to mix the plant with something else, then first ask its permission.
Navigating alternative realities
Visionary plants and psychedelics open doors to realities that are often hidden to us. To put it plainly – there are such things as spirits, angels and demons. Many sicknesses, especially mental ones, are actually caused by parasitic energies.
Some people have a natural instinct on to how to handle other realities, while others can feel very lost and vulnerable. If you have no knowledge of how to navigate such realities it is good to have a guide who does.
As so often it is really only fear itself that you have to worry about. If you feel that you need protection, then you should absolutely call it in. If you feel that you don’t need protection, then most likely you are fine without it.
Integrate the experience, live the insight
Plants and substances are tools that will show you what you are doing wrong and what you need to do in order to get un-stuck, heal and so on. They will usually not heal you, but will rather leave that work for you to do. What you do following the ceremony is therefore of utmost importance. To heal you need to properly integrate and live the insights that you have found. As long as you do so you are still on your way.
If you on the other hand go back home and don’t bother taking care of the insights you have gained, then you will quickly find yourself in the same misery again. It might even be worse, because you have become conscious about what you should do. In that case you stagnate and stand still. A person who comes back for the same answers over and over is probably not genuinely interested in evolving, but is rather seeking thrills. If you come back for the same answers you will soon find that the plants get fed up with you, in the same way that any therapist would if you kept coming back with the exact same issue. If they do get angry with you, your journeys will rapidly become increasingly uncomfortable.
Some people are very able to work with themselves after the experience, while others need the support of others. When doing such journeying with friends one has a support group in each other, but if one takes help of a shaman or therapist for the experience it isn’t always obvious where you can get the support you need afterwards.
To make positive changes in your life you need to focus on integration. If it is all about the experience and not about the integration, you will find yourself going nowhere.
How all of this applies to life in general
If you take a step back and exclude all plants and substances from this text you will notice that most of what I have written is applicable to life in general. Let me take a few examples.
Setting Depressed people often unconsciously program themselves to be miserable. Everything around them is carefully rigged to keep their mood down. They are in a setting which is poison to them. If they applied the same technique of changing variables in their surroundings they could often solve their situation without medication. But instead of changing the music, changing clothes, relationships or jobs, many people medicate themselves. By doing so they are in many cases actually sedating themselves in order to continue functioning in an environment that is harmful to them.
Go with the flow Our society is obsessed with avoiding the uncomfortable, at the cost of never actually solving it. Instead of facing the discomfort we sedate or distract ourselves from problems. If people in general were given the tools and courage to face their pain, sorrow, shame, anxiety and whatever else is bothering them, we would see far more healing at the mental and emotional level than doctors, therapist, shamans and medications can ever hope to give us.
Integration is the key People are full of bright ideas and answers, but they are all quite pointless if you do not let them live. Insights that aren’t translated into action are only insights in theory. For them to have importance in your life you must do something with them.
A last note
Much of this text deals with the issue of challenging experiences with visionary plants and psychedelics, but I need to add that most of my experiences with psychedelic medicine have been joyful, marvellous, beautiful and eye-opening. There is so much love and wonder and I function so much better because of my experiences. So even if I believe in being prepared for challenges, leave the door wide open for your journey to be something totally other than challenging, because most of the time it will be.