After a long period of enforced dormancy, some psychedelics (such as LSD, psilocybin, ibogaine and ketamine) are emerging as breakthrough treatments for a variety of serious mental health conditions. During the long relegation to ‘illegal’ and ‘dangerous’ status (which many of these substances still hold in most countries, including South Africa), individuals seeking alternative treatments or psychedelic-induced mystical experiences have had to make it on their own, without profession guidance on their mind-altering journey.
“Institutionalized use of psychedelics in religions of pre-modern societies worldwide reveal the central roles of these substances in the evolution of spiritual experiences, cultures, and religions” (Winkelman, 2017). The ancient wisdom traditions that use/d various psychedelic substances, such as psilocybin (magic mushrooms), for their medicinal and transcendent properties knew that a certain factors were not just important, but necessary for safely and meaningfully entering into the induced mystical or spiritual state.
In pre-modern cultures, ritual and ceremony cannot be divorced from the use of mind-altering substances. Various culturally relevant preparations and enactments are essential for the containment and enhanced meaningfulness of the journey. Nor would one expect to make one’s own way through a psychedelic experience without the use of an experienced guide, usually a shaman or similar, who themselves has mastered the ‘two worlds’ and is capable of holding and guiding the intense and vivid journeys of others. Further traditions are often forgotten by the modern, solo traveller, such as those leading up to the experience: fasting, if necessary, other medical implications (such as medicines that may need to be discontinued before use), the environment in which the experience will occur and the individual’s mindset (known as set and setting: both of which research has found to be markedly important for the outcome of the experience), and even the time of day that the ceremony is performed. Mindset is incredibly important when entering an altered state of consciousness; fears, anxieties and doubts should be addressed long before the experience is underway. There may be certain longer term preparations than need to be made, such as developing a mindfulness practice, meditation or yoga.
A psychedelic revolution has been gaining momentum for some time now, and until certain measures are in place, modern day, city-dwelling individuals are frankly forced into unsafe, hardly optimal conditions if they seek these experiences. Because of the increasingly complex yet somewhat spiritually flattened society we live in, there is more that a ‘modern-day’ guide needs to take into consideration than a traditional, pre-modern ‘small village’ guide. This versatility and adaptiveness on the part of a modern guide is essential in order to safely and meaningfully guide different individuals with different intentions, backgrounds and world views who are seeking psychedelic-induced mystical experiences.
In truth, not everyone can, should or needs to embark on a psychonautic journey. For those who do, the services of a trusted, sober, experienced guide makes a qualitative difference. Unfortunately, there are now individuals who pose as guides with little understanding of the psychological, environmental, spiritual and biological factors at play and because psychedelic experiences are in no way regulated, an individual seeking a guide may be none-the-wiser.
Language associated with psychedelic-induced and naturally-induced mystical experiences (‘total awareness’, ‘complete ego dissolution’) is becoming commonplace, as more individuals engage in contemplative practices and exploratory psychedelic experiences. This is both encouraging, as it is indicative of people seeking more awareness and deeper, more meaningful engagement with their realities. However, one must also note the fact that a forced, complete and sudden break from one’s familiar reality holds the potential to be at minimum unpleasant or worse, outright dangerous. No person should use a psychedelic, mind-altering substance without seriously considering the implications and the possible outcomes. This is a process which can be undertaken with a guide, in order to determine if the experience is optimal for you and how it can be most meaningful, beneficial and safe.
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3 thoughts on “Travel Safely: Psychedelic Guidance”
I am in two minds Melissa. Or perhaps more. I think what people really need to know is that low dosages are safe and higher ones may lead to bad trips and a very frightening few hours.
The John Hopkins research suggests that a “safe” dose of psilocybin would equate to 30mg. The trouble is, as you know, the psychedelic renaissance still has a long way to travel. The winter is still with us. Some people need urgent help and are therefore naturally having to help themselves. If they are careful, the probably won’t go too far wrong?
Thanks for your comment.
I agree – the work has a long way to go, yet people still ‘help themselves’ as you say, and often with great need.
Of course, it would be safer to start on low doses if anyone were to experiment, but professional, knowledgable and experienced guidance, in as much as that exists, is absolutely necessary for a safe and optimally transformative experience. Dosage is not a direct predictor of bad trips, although we are grouping together many different substances here and so this will blur the discussion. For example, Ketamine trials show differences in researchers positions on the dosage factor, with some strongly urging higher doses for more potent, healing effects (this in a warm, clinical and safe setting). Important factors shouldn’t be left to the individual, like environmental preparations, psychological safety and containment, judgement about their mindset and dosage. After all, we are talking about transformative experiences inducing alternations in consciousness, mood, behaviour and more – and so going it alone can easily decrease the benefit and possibly even lead to bad trips.
I am interested to see how this field, and psychedelic guidance, will open up and become more professional yet accessible in the future.
Dosage does seem to be a predictor of bad trips using psilocybin. According to the research at John Hopkins anyway. Perhaps not so with other psychedelics or ketamine. But I agree that for preference such a drug would be taken under proper supervision and setting. Especially if an attempt was made to achieve ego loss on high dosage (which is apparently required). Happily, usage over the past 70 odd years seems to provide evidence that psychedelics are relatively safe physiologically and are not addictive.
I know a number of people using psychedelic mushrooms to good effect to treat severe depression and PTSD – some of them ex army and casualties of the many useless wars we have fought in recent years.
Perhaps better that such people should attempt a self cure on a “safe” drug than end their lives.
The additional draw back of course is that mushrooms contain a cocktail of other drugs. None of which seem harmful however.
Weighing up all these matters and considering the fact that assisted therapy is illegal in most countries of the world, it is probably not a bad thing that people are experimenting on their own. Especially if the alternative is probably suicide.