“Why haven’t we seen a picture of the whole mind yet?”:  Positive Possibilities for Psychedelics

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There is of course continued and still extensive use of psychedelics for self-exploration, illegally and without trained guides. A survey of college students found that the most often cited reason for taking psychedelics was self-exploration, not spiritual or recreational use.  Just as the acceptance of medical marijuana has spawned the “dispensary” where patients can buy their medications, if current trends continue we can expect the emergence of clinics and institutions specializing in psychotherapeutic treatment with different kinds of psychedelics. 

Creativity and problem solving

The term “psychedelic” is already in popular use to describe a certain kind of music and visual art. It carries no stigma for an artist to avow that psychedelics influenced the creation of a song, a painting or a dramatic production. Their use is widely accepted in the technical world as well, even though there is, as yet, hardly any discussion about it. 

During the dot-com revolution, companies were formed by people young enough to have grown up with psychedelics readily available. Drug use for them was casual and frequent. That two recent Nobel Prize laureates acknowledged that psychedelics played a role in their scientific breakthroughs suggests that there has been far more use of these substances in the scientific community than has become known. 

Paralleling the thousands of people who attended the scientific conferences in Basel are the much larger groups that flock to the yearly Boom Festival in Europe and The Burning Man Festival held in Nevada. While not all of the 50,000 people at Burning Man have taken psychedelics, the vast majority of attendees have.

On YouTube, individual factual and conceptual videos on psychedelics have been viewed by over one million people. In 2009, National Geographic Television was able to sell advertising space for a full evening about “drugs.” The evening began with an hour about meta-amphetamine. A second hour toured the world of marijuana planting, growing, selling and using. The final hour was on contemporary psychedelic use, primarily biomedical and therapeutic studies, but including local urban drug dealing and the use of psychedelics by artists to improve and expand their skills.  Such programs indicate how far we have come since the 1936 anti-marijuana exploitation jeremiad, “Reefer Madness,“ was distributed as “informational”.

The overall trend is toward greater openness and greater availability of information. Trained guides for spiritual and scientific sessions are still hard to come by, but cultural and market forces are favorable for institutions to be created for such instruction.

This overview is based on the optimistic hope that the proper uses of these remarkable substances will not be overwhelmed by trivial popularization, as was the case when psychedelics were made illegal.

The counter-forces to wider acceptance include the usual suspects: stupidity, fear, greed, self-interest and inertia. The criminal groups and the law enforcement/prison establishment employed to enforce drug laws are already becoming active. In California, the prison guard unions are among the groups who donate most heavily to political campaigns and who will undoubtedly spend a great deal fighting the various initiatives. Some members of organized religions will undoubtedly also be among the opposition. Almost every religious institution has a vested bureaucracy determined to pose itself as the sole authorized intermediaries between the faithful and the Divine. In the past, the possibility of direct spiritual contact afforded by psychedelic experiences were seen as a significant threat to these establishments. Recently, however, American law has allowed the establishment of churches that employ psychedelic substances as the sacraments that they truly are. Let us hope that a new generation of leaders in the mainstream churches take inspiration from this. 

Additional opposition may come from the international banking system. If this sounds unlikely, it is only because most of us are unaware of the value of illegal drug sales. A United Nations study of the world financial meltdown of 2008-2009 concluded that one of the few continuing sources of liquidity was the $232 billion dollars (that’s the real number) of drug profits during that period.  The majority of these profits were from drugs such as heroin and cocaine, but keeping the laws muddy and confusing serves these interests better than laws focused solely on addictive drugs.
As favorable as these trends may be, what matters most is how your understanding of you and your place in the natural order has been made clearer or richer or of more value because of your actual or anticipated psychedelic-supported experiences. If the resultant insights are not integrated into your life, they can be trivialized, ignored or even pathologized. Huston Smith says the question is not do these substances support religious experience, but does their use lead to a religious life? Psychedelic researcher and Buddhist practitioner Rick Strassman says, “‘Spiritual experience’ alone, even repeated, is not the basis for becoming a better person. Rather, psychedelic insights tempered and put into practice using ethical ands moral considerations appears to be the best way to harness the power of psychedelic drugs.”

In many cultures, a psychedelic explorer is called upon to find something of use to his or her society – learning about the healing properties of a plant, bringing back a healing song or recovering a nugget of wisdom to help people live in greater harmony with themselves and with the natural world. That psychedelics make such experiences more easily available does not lessen this responsibility.

The question posed by the poet Mary Oliver, “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”  is one that psychedelics impel you to take seriously.

Born in May of 1939, James Fadiman received a B.A. from Harvard in Social Relations in 1960 and an M.A. and a Ph.D. in psychology from Stanford University, in 1962 and 1965, respectively.In the last forty years he has held a wide variety of teaching, consulting, training, counseling, editorial, and other positions.While living in Paris during his student years, James Fadiman was introduced to psychedelics by his undergraduate advisor, Richard Alpert (Ram Das), who was on his way to Copenhagen with Tim Leary and Aldous Huxley for the first major presentation about the positive potentials of psychedelics at an international conference.

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