To say that this summer has not gone as I had hoped would be an understatement. But following my on-line meeting yesterday with the psychiatrist who is the director of the research study I’ve been participating in – one month after my first dose – I now know my status vis-a-vis the study, and understand my options moving forward.
As you will know if you have been following this journey, I was extraordinarily disappointed following the 25 mg dose of psilocybin I received on July 16. I felt I had not received enough psilocybin to attain the result I had expected, and this outcome plus the continuing withdrawal from the anti-depressants I’ve been on for several decades, plunged me into a state of despair the likes of which I have not experienced for a very long time, if ever. The “jaws of the black dogs” (as John Bentley Mays described them in his Memoir of Depression) were nearly unrelenting, and I did whatever I could to keep myself upright: from long walks in nature, to shorter faster walks, to meditation, to reading, to writing, to movie watching, to attempting to be sociable: you name it. Anything to distract myself from the bleak goings on inside my head.
I knew that I could resume a course of antidepressants at any time and relieve the depression I was feeling, which means that I did bring my state of mind on myself. But I did not want to go back on the antidepressants because I was hoping that despite my disappointing outcome with the first dose, I would secure approval in the study to receive a second. (You can’t and shouldn’t receive a psilocybin dose when you are on Selective Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors, or SSRIs, which is what most modern antidepressants are, including mine. It is believed that SSRIs interfere with, or even repress, the effects of the psilocybin. This is why I tapered off them in the spring, and have been off them now for several months.)
Why, you may ask, would anyone want a second dose after feeling so terribly strung out after the first one? It is a question I have asked myself many times. The answer is in part that I have huge faith (based on a lot of clinical research papers I have read, so it’s not just faith) that psilocybin does work in the treatment of depression, and I felt that perhaps my expectations had been so high and my anticipatory tension had been so great that I had interfered with the effectiveness of the treatment simply by being so uptight about it. (Is “uptight” still a word that anyone understands?) I hoped that I could calm down enough the second time to let the dosing work its magic. I had also read that the same dose can have different effects on the same person at different times. If I were approved for the second dose, I wanted to give it a try. And that meant not resuming the antidepressants until I had a decision from the research team about the second dose.
Second Dose: Not Happening
Yesterday I had my scheduled meeting with the director of the research program, a psychiatrist who works and conducts research in the field of neuropsychopharmacology at the University of Toronto. (He is a genuinely nice guy who actually listens to what patients say to him.) He told me that based on all of the surveys I have done, questionnaires I’ve completed and meetings I’ve attended since the first dose, I am not eligible for a second one. The reasons he gave me make perfect sense: this study is approved by Health Canada which means that all of the protocols set out in the study must be adhered to exactly. And the guidelines say that only participants who have benefitted from a first dose (i.e., had their depression alleviated even a little) and who might find even greater benefit from a second dose are eligible to receive one. My depression had, if anything, intensified following the first dose, so I did not qualify.
The doctor also pointed out that if – as I had suggested to him and to anyone else who would listen to me – a higher dose might have brought me the benefits I sought, he couldn’t have given me more than the 25 mg the study protocol allows anyway.
He pointed out a couple of other interesting things.
While it has always been my hope that the psilocybin treatment would alleviate my depression, I was also very interested in experiencing the consciousness-expanding properties of psychedelics that such writers as Michael Pollan, Sam Harris and many, many others have reported. The 25 mg dose which is standard in most depression studies is not intended to send participants far enough out into the stratosphere that they will find themselves closer to understanding the meaning of life, but is rather intended only to help alleviate their depression, PTSD, end-of-life anxiety, etc.
In other words, I may have been seeking more from this dose than the dose in this study could ever have given me. This theory is reinforced by the fact that the colourful imagery and magnificent soundscapes that I did experience while taking the first dose were similar to those reported by people who DO find their depression alleviated by the session.
So Now What?
My discussion with the researcher/psychiatrist/director has let me to two conclusions.
People with depression should not base their decisions about whether or not to treat it with psilocybin (if and when that option becomes available to them) on what happened to me. The treatment is effective for so many people and has so few negative side effects (mine being almost totally attributable to having gone off antidepressants and having disproportional expectations) that in my estimation, in this context, psilocybin is still a wonder drug.
I am not finished with this.
There are other ways of obtaining a slightly larger dose than the one I received in the research study, some of which are even legal for people in specific mental-health situations. Before I go back on the antidepressants, I am going to explore these other options until I am satisfied that I have done what I personally believe I need to do in order to 1) relieve my depression AND 2) learn more about the nature of consciousness. I will report on my adventures as they continue to unfold – so stay tuned.
In the meantime, I am feeling more optimistic, partly because I am feeling more in control of what happens next, and partly because I found a wonderful psychotherapist online at the Psychology Today website. We conduct our sessions on Zoom, which perfectly suits my needs.
My immediate focus is on a three-week trip to Germany which starts on Friday. I will be reporting on that adventure on this blogsite, as I have previously reported on my/our trips to India, Cuba and Italy.
I also want to draw the attention once again of interested readers to the list I have compiled so far on interesting, useful and scientifically sound resources relating to the use of psilocybin and other psychedelic drugs in the context of mental health and the expansion of one’s mind.
What happens when a dose of psilocybin fails to produce the anticipated result
Well, I’ve had the (first) dose. So far it’s taken me a week to recover from it, but I’m gradually feeling better. The reason I needed to “recover” is not because the effects of the dose were so dramatic, but because they weren’t. While I definitely felt as though I was on a path that could take me somewhere interesting during the dosing experience, I never got there. After all the buildup, this left me feeling fairly shattered. This outcome was not the fault of the drug or the research study, nor was it anything I did wrong. It’s just one of those things that happens sometimes and unfortunately for me, this was one of the times it happened.
I have found a quote in the Psychedelic Timesthat describes the experience I had. It reads, “… some people become anxious at this level of dosage and feel on the crest of ‘breaking through’ to a fuller experience but never do…”. I am not exactly sure what dosage the author is referring to, as I think he is discussing psychedelic mushrooms rather than distilled psilocybin, but the description of what happened is exactly right: while the dose I received is enough for most people to attain “lift off,” that didn’t happen to me. Psychedelics are tricky things. Different people respond differently to the same dose, and the same person can have a different reaction to the same dose on different days. While I think my experience is highly unusual for participants in studies about psychedelics and depression, obviously it happens.
As I’m sure you can imagine after everything I’ve written here, which reflects only a tiny portion of what I’ve read, and listened to, and thought about regarding this journey, I was so devastated with the non-result that my first reaction was to say, “I’m never doing that again!” But after a week, I have come back to my senses (?), and have requested that the study administrators consider me for a second dose.
This post is an overview of what happened to me, but I hope it won’t discourage others from taking advantage of this amazing treatment if they have the opportunity. On the other hand, if anyone else has the experience I did, maybe my account will be of some assistance.
By the time I went for the scheduled dose last week, my anxiety about it – which was exacerbated by the depression and anxiety I was already experiencing following my withdrawal from antidepressants – had intensified to the point where I was in a state of near panic. In fact, I have wondered if the extent of my apprehension before the dose might have interfered with my ability to “break through.” (If so, that part should at least go better next time: no dose I take in future will ever again be my first.)
I had three main fears. First, I was really worried about having a “bad trip,” which I gather is akin to having intensely realistic nightmares that reach into your deepest fears, from which you feel unable to waken, and during which you don’t remember that the experience you think you are having is not real. Guides are usually able to help with this. Just as one does with a person who is actually having a bad dream, they will notice your distress and say a few words or – if you have given them permission in advance – reach out and offer a steadying hand on your arm or shoulder. This is usually all it takes to redirect the thoughts of the person who is having the bad trip and send them in a more positive direction. In addition, since my guides were physicians, they had counteractive treatments at hand if things went really bad. Furthermore, bad trips are not all that common. But even knowing all of this, as the experience approached I kept thinking about the accounts I’d read of people who’d had bad trips, and it didn’t help that, two days before my dose, I listened to a really interesting interview of Roland Griffiths by Sam Harris, to which Sam had appended his account of a trip he recently took (basically because Terence McKenna had thrown down a gauntlet, it seems, which is no reason to do anything as far as I’m concerned) in which he’d consumed 5g of mushrooms all at once. His trip was not “bad,” but it was a very scary ride.
Secondly, although I was sure, and had been frequently reassured, that I would come back in one piece even if I did have a bad trip, I could not get the concern out of my head that I might not come back as the same basic person as I was when I went into the psilocybin session. Some of the benefits of a dose of psychedelics that are widely touted – the expansive sense of oneness with nature, the love for humanity, etc. – all sound great, but they do not sound like me. (Well, they do, but they don’t. It’s hard to explain aside from saying I don’t want to lose ALL of my cynicism nor to relinquish my firm grip on reality, downsides and all.)
Finally, I was worried that the dose would not work at all. I have never responded the way most people do to cannabis – no happy, giggly, floaty stuff for me, just paranoia and sleepiness. So what if the dose had no effect on me at all? I had asked those running the study if I could ask for more psilocybin during the dosing session if nothing happened, and of course I was told that I could not receive more than the original dose. This makes sense because this is a research study, and doses need to be the same for everyone.
So given all these fears, the amount of time I had spent thinking about the upcoming experience, and my wonderful imagination, by the time I arrived for the treatment last Saturday, my stomach was in knots and my heart was pounding. I was basically a basket case.
The worst fifteen minutes were the ones I had to go through following the required Covid test, sitting outside the treatment centre in the car with my (heroically patient and probably quite perplexed) husband. If I’d tested positive and could not have been admitted for the treatment, I honestly do not know what I would have done. It would have been a legendary temper tantrum of Hulkian proportions.
Fortunately, I did not have Covid. I was admitted to the centre, and greeted by my two guides. These are wonderful women, both MDs with an interest in psychology and psychedelics. Having two people in the room throughout the trip is unusual, but it adds a layer of protection because in non-controlled study situations there have been some instances of abuse by unethical guides. I’m sure having two people on board also protects the guides, and it probably allows them to confer on participants’ experiences, and their responses to that.
They asked me how I felt, and I told them how scared I was. They reassured me that this was normal, which helped a bit. I had also been thinking of Michael Pollan’s sleepless nights before his doses, so I knew that I was not the only person who had ever felt this way. We talked for a while about what I was hoping to get out of the day’s experience, but this discussion was really just to help me focus, as I’d already discussed my hopes and expectations in great depth with one of the two guides the previous week.
Then I received the dose, 25 mg of psilocybin in about half a cup of liquid. The concoction was fairly tasteless.
I donned a black mask to keep out light, and put on headphones so I could hear the mixed tape that is apparently the one that Johns Hopkins created for participants in their studies. (BTW, I found the musical selection rather odd: most of the pieces are lovely, but many of them are quite Western and classical, and therefore quite structured. This seems at odds with an experience that is supposed to un-structure everything!)
Once dosed and outfitted, I lay down on the couch, my two guides nearby in armchairs about five feet from my head, and I waited. I was still quite worried. After about 30 minutes, I started feeling like I was on a drug. I’m not sure how else to explain it – I did not feel any more relaxed, but things were definitely not feeling normal. After some additional time, I started seeing things in my head that I can best describe as very much like the images we are getting from the Webb Space Telescope. (I’m not kidding here: the resemblance was uncanny.)
The images in my head grew more personalized as time went on – I thought I saw Yoda in the mists at some point, and a few people I know, and some eyes. It seemed to me that the images that were coming to me were very closely connected to the music: when the music stopped or changed, the images retreated or changed. If the music was majestic I had majestic images (mountains, castles, etc.) and when it was more Eastern, I had images of Mayan- or Hindu-type figures.
This was all very nice and interesting, but I was still fairly nervous because I knew I was not “there” yet, and I was waiting for my “self” to disintegrate (as the literature had told me to expect it would) or at least for my self to become less important. I knew I was not tripping – but I was on my way in that direction. I remember thinking “So this is where cinematic artists got their ideas for the images in sci fi films like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Dune.” I also felt a very deep appreciation for the music that I was listening to. It sounded richer and closer than I had ever heard music sound, and again I felt great appreciation for the composers/creators. I remember thinking as I listened to a piece of flute music that the intake of breath of the flautist was an essential part of the piece – I had never noticed that before. It was lovely. So I was definitely getting stuff from the drug that I do not normally experience.
I had consumed a lot of coffee before I came to the session (next time, I’ll keep my fluid intake to a minimum!) and before too long I had to get up and use the washroom. This was frustrating because it meant I had to leave off from the trip I felt I was beginning to experience, which actually seemed kind of interesting by that point. When I walked to the bathroom, I definitely felt like I was on a drug – it was like moving through a dense but invisible cloud and I had to pay attention to what I was doing. My legs felt a bit rubbery – but I didn’t have any hallucinations or anything. I came back, lay down again, and resumed my journey.
I had to use the washroom a few more times over the next couple of hours, and each time when I got up, I had no feeling that I was in anything more than a mildly altered state. When I came back into the treatment room, I conveyed my frustration to the guides that nothing much was happening. I kept asking what time it was because I was still tense – mostly worried at this point that time was passing and I was not having the experience I came for. They told me the onset was different for everyone, that the trip would come in waves, and that I should just try to let go and let it happen.
And I did “try to let go” (sounds like a contradiction in terms, I know, but as a meditator, I do know how to clear my mind). But these efforts did nothing. About three hours in, I was even thinking, “God, I am so bored. How much longer do I have to lie here?”
I started figuring out how I would describe what I was seeing to people after it was over, and I had no trouble putting words to my visual experiences. An inability to put the experience into words – “ineffability” – is one of the measures that some people have used to describe a psychedelic experience, but I did not see anything that I would call indescribable. Nor was there anything that felt as real as reality (“noetic.” Another measure). And nothing – aside from the music – felt “mystical” (a third measure).
At one point I realized I was hungry so I sat up and ate the lunch they’d suggested I bring with me. By this time I was beginning to suspect the treatment wasn’t “working,” but yet again I tried to give it another shot.
And so it went, until finally I’d had enough. I don’t know what time it was, but I believe that after about four or five hours (which is the length of time these experiences are supposed to last) my sense of being on a drug was gone. I was done with it. It was over. I had never once lost my sense of “self,” or my feeling of being in a room, in my own body, with two guides. I’d had no feeling of euphoria or any pleasant or mystical feelings of any kind.
Maybe I did have a psychedelic experience, but if that is the case, I don’t understand the hype at all, and it certainly offered me no benefits aside from a greater appreciation for the creators of film and music. Here is the analogy I have since developed for what I feel I experienced: It was like going up one of those way-too-high roller coasters (like the Yukon Striker at Wonderland near Toronto – which I haven’t gone on … yet) – up, up, up to the very top, to the point where you can see the entire landscape ahead of you (I could see what it would be like to be fully launched on the psilocybin trip, and it was certainly scary but also quite lovely and I was really interested to see what was going to happen when I did start the actual ride). But then I realized that my roller-coaster car was stuck at the top, completely stuck, and that I was never going to go over the edge. I was never going to drop. And I had no ability myself, no matter what I did, to move the car forward. Instead, I just had to sit there fearing the heights, and wait it out until my brain cleared and I could figure out how to get myself down again. And that part was traumatic.
I have rarely felt so awful in my life as I did after that experience. I was overwhelmingly disappointed. I felt frightened from having hovered in suspense for so long. I felt grumpy and irritable. Also, I was exhausted. I had trouble sleeping that night, and the way I felt the next day was worse. It was like an experience with quasi-PTSD that I’d had in my 40s after jumping out of an airplane during another one of my adventures. (The actual skydiving part was great but everything around it terrified me – what was I thinking? I am afraid of heights! But that’s a story for another day.)
I had an “integration session” with my two guides at 9 the next morning. They reminded me that the dose I had been given was standard and that it had been determined on the basis of the optimal amount in the treatment of depression. It was not intended to zap me into some alternate universe. In other words, they were telling me that it was what it was, and I needed to work with that and see how it had affected my depression.
Talking to them helped a little, but later in the afternoon I was feeling awful again. I felt threadbare, as though the inside of my brain had been stripped of some protective layer that I was unable to get back. I felt like I should be feeling better after the treatment, but I wasn’t, and I felt as though I had no one to blame but myself.
On Monday, after a good night’s sleep, I came to the realization that it was not my fault, and I started figuring out how to put myself back together again.
One week after my first dose of psilocybin, I am feeling less disappointed and more optimistic about the outcome if I give this another try. (In AA they talk about the tendency most of us have to try the same approach to resolving problems again and again, hoping for a different outcome. I hope this isn’t that. 🙂)
I feel no less depressed than I did before the dose, no better psychologically in any way, and I still feel deeply disappointed, but after a week of keeping myself occupied with activities that interest me, in order to avoid thinking about my disappointment, I am regaining my sense of direction. I have been meditating every day, trying to get some exercise (when it’s not too hot!), reading some great books, avoiding the news and social media, talking with close friends and relatives, and doing a bit of work on my novel. Anyone who does these things is bound to feel better, and it’s working well for me.
By this point, I am also fairly tired of thinking and talking about my own state of mind and my efforts to improve it, so I’m just going to carry on with my life on my life’s terms until I find out if I am eligible for another dose – and if so, when. I don’t expect it will happen soon — I gather that those who do get a second dose usually need to wait for ten weeks or so. I’m not going to resume the use of antidepressants after going to all the trouble to go off them (still having brain zaps after eight weeks!), unless I get to a point where I have no other options.
So I’m going to stop writing about psychedelics for a while and focus my attention instead on another trip: the one we are taking to Germany next month. But I will keep you posted on what happens with the study. I offer my sincere thanks to so many people who have been cheering me on during this whole experience. I am sorry I couldn’t have delivered you a happy ending without all of these complications. But I’m probably going to benefit from this experience too – even if it takes a bit more time before I see exactly how.
Part 11 of the series “Mary and the Mushroom: Psilocybin, Chronic Depression and Me”
As I have said too many times since I launched this series of posts, there is increasingly strong evidence that psilocybin, LSD and other psychedelics can help to alleviate depression, addictions, PTSD, and other debilitation mental-health issues after one or two doses, given the right set and setting.*
As I’ve been chronicling my own journey as a participant in a study into the effects of psilocybin on chronic depression, many people have reached out to me, expressing hope that not only will the dose I take be effective for me, but that they will eventually have access to this treatment too. Some researchers in the field now hope that within five years, psilocybin will be approved for use in safe therapeutic settings. (I know! This is an agonizingly long wait if you are suffering.)
However, many researchers, therapists and prospective patients – as well as “healthy normal” people who are interested in safely exploring dimensions of consciousness not usually available to us – have expressed concern, as I am doing here, that before we reach a world in which there is legal access to these substances – within, much less outside of, treatment settings – the drugs will be banned once more, as they were in the 1960s, making it illegal not only to use them but even to continue researching their benefits. If that happens, millions will continue to suffer without access to an option that is showing dramatic, positive results and very few negative side effects.
The Shape of the Threat
If the past few years of watching the news have taught us anything, it is that people with money and power can achieve just about anything they want. They do this directly (e.g., by withdrawing money from funding agencies or by changing laws), and they do it indirectly (e.g., by convincing significant numbers people via social media, community groups and religious institutions that something they don’t want us to have is dangerous). As we have seen over and over again, when special interests have lots of money for lobbying, they can be frighteningly effective in winning government support.
It has been demonstrated beyond a doubt that when properly administered, psychedelics are almost never dangerous – physically or psychologically. To the contrary, they have provided relief to thousands upon thousands of people. Nonetheless, there are plenty of reasons why those with power and money are likely to want to prevent or curtail governmental approval for their therapeutic use.
Here are some of them.
They Are Going to Damage Big Pharma’s Bottom Line
Psilocybin is a chemical that is found in mushrooms, which are cheap. Mushrooms with psychoactive properties can be easily found in nature if you know what you are looking for (and if you look in the right geographical locations) and, given the right spores and media, they can even be grown at home. Even when a production step is added to ensure quality control and ease of consumption, so that people don’t have to chow down actual dried mushrooms, psilocybin itself is likely to remain relatively inexpensive. because no one can control the source.
Further, only one dose of a psychedelic is normally required to attain lift-off and, in most cases, to produce the desired outcome. Even if LSD (a laboratory-developed chemical compound) is used instead of mushrooms, and even if pharmaceutical companies corner the market on LSD, most patients are not going to want or need to take more than one dose – the trips they induce are intense and can be scary, and their effectiveness is diminished with repeated use. These drugs have no effect on the dopamine centre in the brain which is what leads to drug addiction, so they are not candidates for getting people hooked. (Some current research shows that a way to extend the benefits of having dosed with a psychedelic may lie in meditation, of all things, rather than in repeating the psychedelic dose or using other drugs. Meditation is a very inexpensive route to peace of mind.)
Contrast the cost of a psychedelic treatment with the big business of antidepressants, which a whole lot of us have been taking once a day in increasing doses for years and even decades. The benefits of SSRIs tend to diminish over time, and they are very hard to discontinue. (I can attest to this. I’m now six weeks off of duloxetine/Cymbalta and I am still having brain zaps, aching joints, anxiety and, of course, intensified depression and anxiety.)
It seems to me as though it would be a good business strategy for Big Pharma to gain sole legal control of the production and distribution of psychedelics when and if they are approved – and then to mount intense PR campaigns (of the kind some companies once used to insist that opioids were harmless) to get the message out that psychedelics are dangerous and that anti-depressant treatment should be preferred.
They Threaten Those with Financial Stakes in Other Profitable Industries
Psychedelic use tends to make people more aware – on both a short- and a long-term basis – of the deep, life-nurturing and even sacred connections between themselves and others, and between humans and the natural world. This leads to increased concern for the environment and greater interest in fostering peaceful and loving relationships among humans.
If millions of people seek out psychedelics in an effort to lead more stable, productive and creative lives, and end up becoming more loving and peaceful and more intent on protecting our planet, this development will not be welcomed by those who earn their livings through the manufacture and sales of guns and military armaments – nor by those whose futures depend on nurturing interpersonal disputes. Elections would be quite different if voters were more interested in seeking peaceful solutions to their differences than in fighting over them, or beating down the “other” so many of them seem to fear, or trampling others’ rights and freedoms.
To me, it seems quite likely that when rabid conservatives (in particular) discover a political resurgence of “peaceniks,” and decide that this trend is due in part to the availability of a single chemical substance, that substance is suddenly going to become very difficult to obtain. If some fake news needs to be manufactured in order to make that chemical disappear, so be it.
Users and Underground Guides Can Make Psychedelics Look Risky
This morning I came across an article in the New York Times that reports that some people trying out psychedelics purchased on the street have had terrible outcomes for themselves as a result of unethical dealers and guides. This means renewed damage to the reputation of psychedelics. The NYT article links in turn to a whole series of New York Magazine podcasts about the downsides for some people of taking psychedelics, and the abhorrent practices that may be pervasive underground and even in quasi-therapeutic settings.
I am already massively apprehensive about my upcoming dose of psilocybin, and since psychedelics are very suggestible drugs, it would be a dumb idea for me to listen to these podcasts now. ** [Update. I’ve listened to them now, and I’ve commented below.] But from a quick review of the promo bits, it sounds to me like the approach taken in the New York Magazine series will fit perfectly with the goals of those who are opposed to making psychedelics available for therapeutic use (or any other purpose) in the foreseeable future.
As was true in the 1960s, a few acid heads also contribute to the continuing (if largely unsubstantiated) negative reputation of these substances. Research makes it clear that “set and setting” are crucial to successful trips, whether directed toward therapy or consciousness-raising. The trip experience is improved if one is in a quiet place, lying down comfortably, wearing a mask that keeps keep out light, and listening to quiet music on headphones.
It is also of value to talk to a knowledgeable guide (a “dose doula,” to coin a phrase) ahead of time in order to set intentions for what you want to get out of your trip, and for that guide to be physically present when you take the psychedelic. That way, if your trip goes south, someone will see that you are in distress and (with your permission in advance) will reassure you with a touch to your arm or shoulder, or say a few words to remind you of what you are doing, where you are and why. A guide can also help you to integrate the experience afterwards.
People who dose without attention to “set and setting,” and especially those who dose without a guide, can have bad experiences. They may have no awareness that they are on a drug and, lacking anyone to direct them away from their own frightening hallucinations, they may cause harm to themselves or others in their attempts to fight off perceived threats and dangers. These are the kinds of situations that lead – very infrequently but occasionally – to suicides, homicides and other unfortunate incidents for people who are tripping.
In addition, a very small percentage of people are thought to be at risk of being tipped into psychoses by psychedelics. These include people with a genetic predisposition to psychoses and those who are at risk of schizophrenia (often young people in their late teens and early twenties, which is exactly the age group most likely to experiment with psychedelics unsupervised, alone or at raves and parties – exactly the generation Timothy Leary attempted to turn on in the 1960s). Obviously, these bad outcomes attract public interest and media attention, which ultimately also serves the purposes of those who would like to stamp out the use of psychedelics for unrelated reasons.
Licensed Doulas for Psychedelic Trips?
It seems contrary to the very nature of mushrooms (watch Fantastic Fungi if you haven’t done so already) to regulate their use even in therapeutic settings to the point where they are available only to those with therapists. Therapists are themselves regulated by governmental and organizational dictates.
And yet regulation of these substances is the direction in which all research seems to be leading us at the moment, and there is no doubt that some sort of “sturdy societal container,” as Michael Pollan has described it, is probably necessary (selling tabs at the local 7-Eleven or even at cannabis-type stores is not likely to work out well). But where to draw the line? Human nature suggests that the therapists themselves will find it financially beneficial to insist that guides must be licensed by governing bodies of some kind.
To my mind, such a dictate would be as silly as instructing women (as the medical profession essentially did for many years) that they can only have babies when there’s an obstetrician in attendance. Babies will emerge no matter who is on hand. If safety is a concern (and it is, with both childbirth and psychedelics), the equivalent of a midwife or doula should be a legal option – someone who knows what they are doing but is not necessarily part of the medical or psychotherapeutical establishment.
Millions of people already use psychedelics illegally to self-treat or to simply have mind-expanding experiences. They are a relatively inexpensive resource that anyone can use. But if you are required to go through the burgeoning therapeutic system that is already growing up around us, and you want a competent guide, it seems likely that you are going to have to pay thousands of dollars to get one. I like the idea of people being able, at a reasonable cost, to seek out a compatible doula or midwife-type person with some track record or training to guide them through their trip in a warm, safe, home-like setting.
How Do We Prevent a Disastrous Halt to Psychedelic Research, Treatment and Explorations of Consciousness?
I haven’t got a clue. But I hope someone comes up some suggestions soon.
I am worried about this, especially given the political climate that surrounds us now.
Maybe I’m just displaying some of my pre-tripping anxiety, but I doubt that I’m alone in my concern.
* I am not going to litter this article with references. You can read back through my previous posts or just use Google to find links to scientific studies that support everything I’m saying here. If you want a reference for anything I say here, ask me in a comment and I’ll get back to you.
** UPDATE: I have now listened to most of the New York Magazine podcasts and they failed to dampen my enthusiasm for the potential therapeutic benefits of psychedelics. For one thing, they primarily concern the horrific problems that can arise from misguided (very misguided) guides who manipulate vulnerable minds, and offer them quantities and mixtures of drugs that should not be administered to, or consumed by, those in precarious mental states – or, in some cases, by anyone. The series raises no concerns about psychedelics themselves, but it does fail to make the distinction between actual psychedelic drugs and drugs like MDMA and ketamine that are not in that category. This failure to distinguish is a problem that is rampant at the moment, one that arises from sloppy journalism combined with false advertising. Too many treatment centres are offering MDMA and ketamine as “psychedelic treatments,” when they are not true psychedelics. In fact, MDMA and ketamine can be dangerous and addictive. Listening to the series is probably worth your while in order to remind yourself not to get sucked in by snake-oil salespeople, especially if you are emotionally vulnerable or easily swayed and led by false prophets. Incompetent guides can kill you. But nothing in that series raised any alarm bells for me in regard to taking a standardized dose of psilocybin one or two times an a therapeutic setting with one or two competent guides on hand. Nor does it do anything to contradict the valuable resources Michael Pollan has created, although it clearly wishes that it could. In the end, the series just left me feeling very sorry for vulnerable people who will apparently go to any lengths to make themselves feel better, and will listen to anyone who offers them a way of doing that.
A note to readers who have been commenting on my blog:
I have been responding to your comments! But it appears that WordPress doesn’t tell you when I have done so. I am sorry to hear that. I thought you’d get an email or something when I replied to you. I guess you will need to go back to your comments on previous posts if you’re interested in seeing my responses to them.
Also, if you want to write a comment to me, but don’t want the comment made public, say so in the comment, and I won’t approve it. I’ll just read it and then toss it in the trash.