Illegal substances like psilocybin, DMT, and LSD are being researched around the world as an effective cure to stubborn mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, etc. The results of this research are very promising and set the stage for a cultural revolution around psychedelics. Psychedelics are a hard subject to explain. Finding the right balance which describes both the dangers and the benefits is difficult to find.
Psychedelics are defined as a hallucinogenic category of drugs that can alter consciousness via serotonin receptors in our brain. The classic psychedelics are namely – LSD, Magic Mushrooms, DMT, and Mescaline. Culturally, they fall under the broad-based category of recreational drug (drugs taken for enjoyment) along with others like cocaine, heroin, MDMA, etc.
The point of this article is to change that view, by citing research around psychedelics and anecdotal evidence that points to much more than a recreational purpose. Due to the prohibitory nature of the laws, research involving these drugs is not conducted in India. As a result, most of us would encounter this substance in a recreational environment rather than in the safety of a clinical trial. However recently, global changes in attitude and perception towards the drug have resulted in clinical studies being conducted in the US and Europe.
WHAT’S THE TRIP OF PSYCHEDELICS LIKE?
The experience of taking psychedelics can be lazily described as ‘one of those things you need
to experience to understand’. But for my readers, I will try harder.
The experience begins with visual changes. Colors and patterns appear to be moving. Seeing bizarre imagery is a common symptom. The visual experience can be described as seeing real- life objects being manipulated by the creative use of CGI. A better way to describe it would be to show. The optical distortions caused by psychedelics can be extremely amusing. This aspect contributes to the recreational use of the drug.
However, for a lot of users, the experience is less about the visuals but more about the changes in the awareness and ego it causes. Spiritual experiences that are described as mystical are fairly common. It is characterized as a feeling of oneness with nature and all of life. A lot of anecdotal evidence suggests that for the right person at the right time, the psychedelic experience can be positively transformative. This phenomenon was documented in a John Hopkins study, where the participants claimed that taking the drug was in the top-5 spiritually significant experiences of their life.
The mystical experience is so overwhelming and creates such a sense of awe that it leads to changed perceptions about the nature of life. Disgraced Harvard psychologist Timothy Leary wrote in his exhaustive guide to psychedelics that “awareness can expand beyond the range of your ego, your self, your familiar identity, beyond everything you have learnt…”. To understand what this means, think about the way we experience life normally. We see ourselves as an individual with a distinct personality experiencing different situations. This sense of self is called the ego. Due to the presence of the ego, we are at the center of our experience, we become trapped in our own drama. The sensation of a ‘you’ that is separate from the world is hard to shake.
What psychedelics do is break the ego. The sense of self no longer exists and what remains is a part of the environment living purely in the present. This allows you to look at yourself as objectively as possible. When you see yourself from beyond the boundary of self-identity, from the perspective of no one and everyone, a feeling of interconnectedness to all of life and all people is felt. This perspective has the power to make people view the world differently. Long- term meditation has the same effect. John Hopkins’ Professor Rolland Griffith has described psychedelics as the ‘crash course of meditation’.
This transformative experience is thought to be the reason behind the promising research revolving around psychedelics. A smoking study conducted at John Hopkins found that 80% of the participants kept themselves from smoking six months after a psilocybin treatment. To put this in context, the success rate of varenicline (a prescription drug for smoking addiction) is just 35%. Similarly, a study conducted on terminal cancer patients (with depression and end-of-life anxiety) that were given psilocybin found that most patients- almost 80% showed improvements on metrics that measured mood, anxiety, and depression.
More studies conducted on population sets like long-term meditators, alcoholics, people with conditions like PTSD, chronic depression, etc. show positive results that are enough to change
the status quo and place psychedelics as a method of alternative treatment. Despite the benefits, some dangers need acknowledgment. Since the experience is highly suggestive and hallucinatory, there’s a possibility that people might try to harm themselves or others. Moreover, for people who are predisposed to psychotic conditions, there’s a risk of having a traumatic experience that does permanent damage psychologically. It is universally agreed that users need to ensure a comfortable set and setting. Set refers to the mindset, your mood, and your expectations. This means that psychedelics won’t help you change your addiction or behavior unless you want to bring that change yourself. Intentionality is critical to maximizing the impact of the experience. Setting refers to the place you’re in and the people you’re with. Ancient cultures that saw psychedelic plants as sacred involved a shaman or an elder as a trip setter. These shamans basically created a set and a setting that is conducive to meaningful but not terrifying experience. Considering all of these factors, you probably shouldn’t take psychedelics recreationally. However, the laws surrounding them need to change so that the help they offer can be taken safely with science and spirituality going hand in hand.
Feature Image Credits- www.newscientist.com
Abhishek Singh Chauhan