The reports below are either "direct," meaning they are the words someone shared with me or a "composite," meaning I've taken a few reports and combined them to reflect some of what I've heard over the past few years from my clients and friends. I've been careful to change every detail that may point to any particular person.
This note comes directly from one of my clients whom I assisted in preparing before the experience and with integration after the experience (note: I was not the guide). This is an excellent example of the potential fruits of a well-planned, well-integrated, healing-oriented psychedelic journey grounded on a solid foundation of meditation practice.
“My experience with psilocybin and MDMA were incredibly expansive and revealing. I had meditated for 22 years, but these experiences shifted my experience of who I thought I was. With both substances, constricted feelings of fear, doubt, judgment and grief broke open. These experiences each were like meditation on steroids - incredibly expansive and healing. I was alone with a guide for each experience, 10 months apart. The setting was calm and supportive, which I recommend. I also recommend that others who are oriented toward personal growth and transformation and who feel stuck, to look further into these substances as a means toward healing and wholeness.”
This note is from a woman in her late 60's who in recent years has come back to psychedelics (her first experiences were nearly 50 years ago) as a way to keep the noggin' sharp (Paul Stemet's stack), the heart open and her meditation practice continuing to deepen. Over the past few years, she's had a half-dozen high-dose psilocybin experiences as well as a few MDMA journeys. Recently, she's been experimenting with small doses of psilocybin in addition to her regular micro-dosing stack program. Her story points to the potential of combining high and low dose psychedelic experiences over a period of months or years. Maybe we don't always need a high dose to get significant growth and transformation - maybe we just need to keep the pot simmering...
" I took 1.5 grams of psilocybin before taking a 6-mile walk in my favorite forest - a wonderfully rich time, connected with the trees, the birds, the beavers, the soil, everything. I had a light lunch and headed home where I took another 1.5 grams, put on the "journey music"which I use with almost all of my psychedelic experiences and curled up under the covers - it was a cold day. The next 4 hours were filled by a rich "life review" with sharp details going all the back to early childhood and through the nearly 70 years of my life. Emotions and body sensations arose and passed, tears came, waves of guilt, shame, fear, joy, laughter, excitement, all the rest. As I was coming down, all that remained was Deep Peace and Stillness. I sat with my husband, who also appreciates psychedelics, and shared my journey. The walls between us fell away and we enjoyed each other like we had in our 20s only now focused on the present moment, undistracted by the conditioned past or worry about the future. It was a good day."
This is a composite of a number of similar reports I've received from clients who experienced extreme abuse and neglect in their childhood who found their psychedelic journey to be transformative. It offers a powerful example of the healing potential of a carefully-managed psychedelic experience.
"From infancy, I was physically and emotionally abused by my mother and neglected by my father and all of my grandparents, who would not protect me from her. She was a raging alcoholic, took a variety of pain killers and fit the description of a borderline personality. She could be extremely warm, open and caring one minute and closed down and violently abusive the next. Her boundaries were either completely up or down, never healthy or clear. I was in some form of psychotherapy from age 6 and from the age 12, on heavy psychotropic medications. By 18, I had six stays in a psych hospital due to an intention and plans to kill myself. At one point in my early 20's, I was determined to kill myself. It seemed the only answer to the near-constant confusion and unbearable pain of my life. My girlfriend who had a number of positive psychedelic experiences suggested I research MDMA, which I did. What I discovered led me to get myself off all my meds (not an easy thing to do) and prepare for my first psychedelic journey."
"We planned the experience for early Saturday morning so I'd have all day and the next to integrate. My girlfriend was amazing. She stayed with me the whole time not directing me or interfering with my process, just calmly holding the space for me to go deeply into both my physical (body releases, shaking, etc.) and my emotional (crying, shouting, etc.) storehouse of trauma. The experience was transformative. Among other powerful insights, I realized that the abuse had not begun with my mother. She too had been abused and was simply overwhelmed and unable to deal with it, so she passed it on to me. It was the first time I had ever felt any compassion or love for her. This shift of perspective would be a game-changer."
"Working with a life coach, I was able to shift my identity away from an abused, worthless child to someone clear enough and powerful enough to stop the intergenerational transmission of abuse and heal it - for myself, my future children and for anyone who might come into my circle. My girlfriend and I have had a few more MDMA journeys together, each a month or two apart. Since the first experience, I have been off all meds, had no alcohol and have maintained a healthy lifestyle - back in school, vegan diet, regular trips to the gym, yoga classes, etc. My girlfriend and I are amazingly close and continue to support each other. Our relationship provides a safe container for "re-parenting" ourselves. The deep healing and growth continues for both of us."
This is another composite of similar reports I've received from clients who experienced extreme abuse and neglect in their childhood who found their psychedelic journey to be transformative. Another powerful example of the healing potential of carefully-managed psychedelic experiences.
"I'm in my mid-50s and for my entire adult life I've been in psychotherapy and on and off a variety of psych meds for depression and anxiety. I finally gave up on medications and traditional therapy - they would not bring me out of my darkness. I then tried every available form of natural treatment including herbs, acupuncture, QiGong, yoga, group work, women's work, special vitamins and diets, cleansing and purges as well as reading literally 100's of self-help and spiritual guidance books. I've sat 30 day meditation retreats and practiced daily in a variety of traditions for 15 years. I tried everything and I was still trapped by my traumatic childhood and the unfolding drama of abuse and neglect I found in coworkers, family and friends as well as romantic, sexual relationships with both men and women. Like I said, I've tried everything."
"About a year ago, I was fortunate to find a therapist skilled in psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy who after a few preparation sessions, invited me to try psilocybin. The experience was in a quiet place with a special mix of music and my female therapist holding the space. It was clear there was no rush to do anything, to get anywhere. Just relax and surrender fully to the experience and let the music carry me along."
"The experience was powerfully healing and for the first time, I experienced Love. Not being loved by someone but Love which is the true nature of the Universe, God, Goddess, whatever word you want to use for the Ultimate Reality. I realized for the first time that I was connected with All that Is and would never be abandoned or abused by Ultimate Truth. I felt like a tremendous weight had been lifted from my shoulders but a part of me was afraid it would come back some day. I did not need to worry. It would all be OK."
"After a few sessions focused on integration of insights and perspective shifts from my psilocybin experience, my therapist suggested I might benefit from a MDMA experience. It had been about 6 weeks since my psilocybin journey, it felt like the right thing to do, so I agreed. It was an amazing heart-opening, richly embodied experience that allowed me to let go of a flood of trapped energy from the body as well as the resentment I'd held toward my parents, my past partners and perhaps most importantly, myself. A profound transformation had occurred on every level. The perspective from which I see the world and my place in it is so different now. I understand what so many of the spiritual masters are saying. I now have Faith that I'll be OK, I'll be Free to live with peace and have a meaningful life as I go forward. Mine is not a blind faith built on fear and dogma but a faith built on direct experience. I now Know what is Real. I now Know Who I Am. These psychedelic experiences were such wonderful gifts. These days I still cry often but not from pain or fear but from a sense of profound connection, belonging and floods of appreciation. Life is Good!"
Examples of "Bad Trips"
These statements are composites from a number of my clients over the past few years who have had what they describe as "bad trips" which is a concept often challenged as it assumes painful and frightening journeys can not be processed and integrated into healing, transformative experiences - it just takes a bit of work. I offer them here as encouragement to prepare carefully and only take these substances (in a legal way) when the setting is supportive and the seeds of integration have been planted. More about preparation & integration.
1. "I went into the weekend Ayahuasca experience expecting to rid myself of the anxiety I've struggled with for most of my life. The experience was very scary and I felt there was no support for me during the ceremony. I came out 7 or 8 hours later more distressed than I've been in 20 years. Now I don't know how to deal with this high level anxiety that doesn't seem to want to change."
2. "I took a dose of MDMA with my partner of 5 years after a night of light partying with friends. As they say, we were expecting it to bring us to a state of loving for everyone and everything most especially, each other. But after 30 minutes or so, strong painful energy started moving through my body. I started shaking violently, breathing rapidly and screaming out for help. My partner got scared, freaked out and started yelling at me to "snap out of it." This triggered a deep trauma related a sexual assault I experienced when I was 14. I really lost it and my body's shaking and my screaming got worse. A few hours later, I finally started coming down but by then my partner was exhausted and angry with me for "letting myself go" as if I had had a choice. He simply didn't have the capacity to hold the space for me to move through the experience. Our planning had been way off. Neither of us had the energy to manage an experience like this and we didn't know what to expect even though the information is only a Google search away. Needless to say, our relationship didn't survive the journey but I've learned a lot and am engaged with a therapist who is helping me process and integrate the experience. I'm confident I'll be able transform this painful and frightening night into healing and growth. I can see now that it was a fortunate thing that happened just when I was strong enough to transform through it to the other side where my old traumas don't run my life."
3. "I'm a well educated, stable, generally healthy man in his late 40s with a history of polysubstance use going back to high school. I recently went to a gathering here in the states with a few friends. One of them brought along some Ayahuasca he'd manage to bring in from Peru. The experience was over-the-top, terrifying, not at all what I was expecting. I see now that few friends focused on having a good time will never be able to guide me into the Spiritual Light I read so much about but have been unable to find. I won't use any psychedelic again unless I'm well prepared and have skilled support along every step of the way."
4. A composite example of emails I receive from time to time: "Hi John, I'm reaching out to people in hopes that they can help me soon. I did 2 days of ayahuasca with a quality shaman in Columbia. I thought I'd be fine for the 2 days after. But now I wake up every night very confused and hopeless. Can you help?"
I would love to hear and share the stories from your journeys with psychedelics that reflect the capacity of these substances to promote healing, growth and transformation OR to lead to distressing situations (e.g., overwhelming and traumatizing). If you are so inclined, please write about your experiences in a brief, condensed format (similar to what you see above) and send it my way. Know that I'll honor your anonymity and will not share any identifying information with anyone. Drop me a note.