Table of Contents
Please note: This information is not intended as encouragement for anyone to take psychedelics - unless it is done in a legal location with competent guidance in a safe, supportive environment such as: La Familia Ayahuasca or A Whole New High or a MAPS clinical trial or a similar situation with trusted substances with careful preparation and plans for follow-up. From my perspective, it's also important that one feel internally "called or led" to take psychedelics and are not being overly influenced by peer pressure or media hype. Some research is important to cultivate a basic understanding of psychedelic experiences and in establishing a set of reasonable expectations.
I trust this information will help in making a wise decision regarding taking these substances or not, when, where and with whom. For those who decide to take psychedelics for whatever reason they have, my intention is to help them reduce their chances of having a "bad trip" or experiencing any of the potential negative impacts associated with these powerful substances while making the most of the positive fruits that these journeys often provide - minimize risk, maximize gain.
Please consider everything I present below as loving encouragement, no hard and fast rules here. I know you'll find your own way and have your own experience and outcome, just as it should be. If you feel it would be helpful to have a free 30-minute Zoom chat with me at any point in your process, drop me a note and we'll set one up (learn about my services).
- Michael Pollan’s 90-minute interview with Joe Rogan provides some info on the history and current research as well as his personal experiences with psychedelics.
- This TED talk provides a good overview of current research into clinical applications of psychedelics and their effectiveness.
- This 15-minute video from Rebel Wisdom provides a glimpse of what can occur during a psychedelic journey and why it's so important to prepare beforehand and commit to doing some personal work afterward.
- A Model for Psychedelic-Assisted Re-Parenting provides a glimpse of one of the ways these experiences can facilitate emotional and psychological healing.
- This TED talk is about current research into the use of psychedelics and their potential for transforming our culture through Spiritual Awakening.
- These two short videos offer a glimpse into the neurobiology of psychedelic experiences and why it can be so transformational to re-boot the "default mode network":
- These brief articles point to the importance of integration if the goal is long-term transformation - psychological and emotional healing and Spiritual growth:
- Other resources for filling in some of the details of your cognitive map:
- Tricycle article July 2018
- An article on Seeking a Psychedelic Guide from Psychedelics Today
- TED talk: Can Magic Mushrooms Unlock Depression?
- Rick Doblin – follow up on the Good Friday Experiment
- Paul Stamet’s first psilocybin experience
- Psilocybin and Meditation
- Read through this Wikipedia article paying careful attention to the effects that can be expected so you’ll be more relaxed should you experience some of the more “unpleasant or challenging" ones.
- Music is often recommended during your journey and for integration following the journey - read this article on Psychedelic Support's site. MAPS' MDMA clinical trials use 3 playlists (each is 5.5 hours): Psychedelic Therapy Playlist 1 (my personal favorite) - Playlist 2 - Playlist 3. You can find these 3 and many more options on Spotify.
- More books, videos, articles, etc.
If you've read down this far, you know that I encourage folks to only consider taking a psychedelic in a legal way with trained facilitators in a supportive environment. However, I know that some folks are going to have these experiences on their own or with very limited support so I offer them a few suggestions for making the best of a not-ideal situation.
Whoever is going to accompany you, have them read this free Manual for Psychedelic Guides. Of course, you should invest a chunk of time with it too! You want to make sure you both understand the supporter's role in the process clearly enough that they will truly be able to support you, not project their past journeys, needs, fascinations, agendas, etc. onto your experience - not a good thing!
- If you have a close friend who has had psychedelic experiences aimed a personal growth and healing (not just entertainment), they may be a reasonable option. It's important that you feel quite comfortable with them and know that you're not being pressured into taking a journey - it has to be your idea and it's critical that you're comfortable going into it - trust your gut! Also, it's critically important to have a deep trust that this person will not be tempted to take advantage of you in any way - even if it's you who's coming on to them. Trust me, it's not that uncommon during these experiences especially if their "normal" was established at entertainment settings.
- If your significant other has had positive experiences with psychedelics, they may be a good option assuming the relationship is grounded in a commitment to personal and spiritual growth, relatively free of conflict and generally has a low drama history. Sharing these transforming experiences can be strengthening to the relationship. However, they can also be quite detrimental. This is especially true if control issues, passive aggressive acting out, resentments, jealousy, underlying anger, sexual conflicts, etc. are active in the relationship. If this is the case, I encourage you to avoid having your partner in the environment when you journey and give yourself a few days apart following your experience to integrate as completely as you are able before coming back together. It's a wise move to work out your major relationship conflicts prior to either of you taking a psychedelic journey. Also, it's a good idea to let your partner know what you're up to and what to expect when you return. Your relationship will never be perfect but pouring fuel on the fire of dysfunctional enmeshment isn't likely to be helpful to either party, just create more suffering for all concerned. Open, Honest and Vulnerable are key aspects to any growth-promoting and healing intimate relationship and a position I encourage you to take at every step along the way if you truly value your relationship.
- Cultivating a disciplined meditation practice can prepare you for dealing effectively with uncomfortable experiences - the classic "terror at the dissolution of the ego" for example. Being able to respond to such discomfort by dropping into a calm, mindful state where it all can be observed from a comfortable distance can be quite helpful in preventing a "bad trip" often caused by not surrendering to the experience and trying to run away or to stop it, which basically doesn't work. The most common "bad trips" my clients experience arise from lack of the developed capacity to manage their anxiety before jumping into a psychedelic experience which results in their having even more anxiety in their daily lives than before the experience - not a good thing...
- Develop a healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise, an wellness-promoting diet, meaningful work, engaging social interactions and an intimate, loving partnership. I know this is a lot to ask, so just work from where you are and commit yourself to moving forward. Avoid comparing yourself or your life to anyone else's life, just to where you were a few months ago. Gradual progress tends to be more stable so take it one step at a time. Personal and spiritual growth is such a wonderful opportunity to develop patience!
- Psych Meds If you are on any psych meds (benzos, SSRIs, mood stabilizers, etc.), share your plan to try psychedelics with your MD and secure their support and guidance. Don't try getting off your meds on your own - it's not a good idea! If this issue applies to you, you may find this article and/or this one helpful. Also, if you suffer from Bi-polar or any other serious emotional/mental disorder, I'd encourage you to read this article and this one about Ketamine (and the links you'll find there) before you consider taking any psychedelic substance. Meds for physical issues such as high blood pressure should be discussed with your MD as well and/or dig into it online.
- Anxiety and Fear I work with a growing number of folks who came to their psychedelic experience with a history of anxiety, fear or a near-obsession with control. Their experience was not a positive one and worse yet, they may have lost any potential benefit they may receive from psychedelics in the future. If you have any of these issues orr for whatever reason, you're are not confident you'll do well with the potential terror that might arise following your taking a psychedelic, it can be a good idea to test the waters before you find yourself deep in a psychedelic experience.
I have found that an effective test of one's natural ability to "ride the waves of a shifting reality" is to spend some serious time in a Float Tank (Weightless). This Podcast presents some of the benefits of Floating on Anxiety & Depression. Six or eight 90-minute float tank experiences spread over a few weeks can give you a taste of an alternate reality similar in some important ways to a psychedelic trip (see John Lilly). If the float tank experience goes well for you, you're more likely going to enjoy and benefit from your psychedelic experience. If not, consider working with whatever discomfort or fear that arises in the tank until you are comfortable in the tank before considering taking a high dose of any psychedelic substance.
- Intense Meditation Retreat While everyone is unique in what preparation may be most useful, one of my common recommendations is to sit an intensive meditation retreat such as a 10-day Goenka course (often referred to as "spiritual bootcamp"). For many, this can be an excellent preparation experience while establishing a foundation for daily meditation practice for when you're "on the other side" of your psychedelic experience - a daily meditation practice, the gold standard for long-term stabilization of a higher state of consciousness.
- Consider viewing any insights, images, understandings, revelations, etc. that may arise during your experience to be pieces of your psychological and emotional framework which developed from birth until today - some strong, healthy aspects, others no so much. From this broad perspective, these aspects of your development can become as tools for deep self-healing. Such healing may be related to attachment issues grounded in early childhood with your family-of-origin. They may be unhealthy habits you developed later on in an attempt to avoid distressing feelings and thoughts. It seems having a "map" of how psychedelic experiences can be used effectively for this healing would be useful. I'm working on sketching out just such a map - check back on this page from time-to-time for the details. For now, I'll offer these suggestions:
- Reflect on your life, family-of-origin, childhood, siblings, college days, friends, intimate relationships, work life, children, etc.
- Look through your “family albums” from as far back as you’re able – paying particular attention to the photos that touch or trigger you in some way, either in a positive or negative way
- Journal about what comes up while and after working through your family albums as well as during the day especially following a formal meditation practice period or anytime you feel strongly triggered by someone or something (here's an article about this practice)
- Clarify your intention for taking this journey - write it down and reflect on it over the weeks leading up to your trip making as many changes and additions as you want - let this be an organic process
The following suggestions are offered to help you be better prepared to deal with whatever discomfort arises during your psychedelic experience and make the most of your journey. A key to a productive journey is having a well-nurtured and rested body, a calm, clear mind and an open, curious heart. Engage in the process of making the old unhealthy, conditioned habits conscious and then replacing them with healthy intentional habits.
When we stop doing what we've been doing for years without mindful awareness, we come fact-to-face with the underlying discomfort that has led to and has been fueling these self-destructive habits. It can be quite uncomfortable to deny ourselves our usual "fixes" but in the process of cleaning up our life, we begin to become comfortable with our discomfort. This is a great skill to have when the ego falls away and we know for sure and perhaps for the first time, that we're no longer the master of our universe. With this in mind, I offer the following suggestions. I encourage you to follow those you resonate with and put the rest in a toolbox for later. Take this preparation and the rest of your life at your pace. No rush. After all, the process is the destination.
- Tightly limit screen time – no TV, movies, FaceBook… if you must engage with this media, limit it as much as possible, especially none 1 hour or longer before your bed time. Check out this book about the impact of these media.
- No meat, fish, chicken, dairy, milk, following a whole plant-based diet for a couple of weeks. It’s important to clean out the body and deal with the underlying urges. A number of light meals is ideal - avoid breads and processed foods – focus on veggies, fruit, a few nuts, light fresh juices, calming teas.
- No junk food - ideally for the 2-3 weeks before but certainly 3 - 7 days before.
- Stop eating by 6pm – ideally, eat all meals before 2pm.
- Little or no caffeine – wean off if you’re a heavy daily user.
- No alcohol or other intoxicants including cannabis.
- No tobacco - wean off if you have to. This can be a challenging issue if the addiction is strong. However, successfully quitting brings many of rewards including greater self-confidence and sense of self-control.
- No sex, partnered or solo for at least 3 days prior.
- Spend time in nature – open your senses during a walk in the park and/or when sitting outside – one sense at a time, letting the others fall into the background. When the mind is deeply settled, let all the senses come together as a united field of experience with no borders in-between them. Consider participating in a Forest Bathing program.
- If you have problems sleeping avoid taking any meds. Get out of bed after being awake for 20 or 30 minutes and read or do restorative yoga practices – legs in a chair or up the wall. Lay on your back on a carpeted floor or pad (yoga mat). Roll up a towel and place it under your spine and relax into the floor - to open the chest and your heart (10 or 15 min). Then when you feel ready, go back to bed and watch your breath deepen as you relax your eyes and the rest of your body one step at a time.
- Meditation! As much as possible both formal sitting as well as informal practice – eating, walking, in conversation, being in nature… “meditate all day, every day” as they say.
- Begin your day with meditation practice - 20 or 30 minutes of "just listening" not trying to figure anything out or make plans.
- Take a warm shower, put on some of your favorite loose, loose-fitting clothes.
- Eat very little if any breakfast, a piece of fruit or small protein shake (6 oz or less), stay with the healthy diet; no bread, no meat, no/little caffeine.
- Pay careful attention to the setting for your journey - quiet, peaceful, safe place (bed is ideal, sofa will do) with supportive music lined up and ready (such as this selection used by the researchers at John Hopkins). Have your supportive person(s) well-rested, calm, present and committed to staying with you throughout your experience and at least for a few hours afterwards.
- Have some easy-to-digest nutritious foods on hand for when you begin your re-entry. Perhaps some fresh fruit or a protein shake. If you're quiet and listen to your inner voice, you'll be led to the foods your body is calling for. It's generally better to skip the pizza and the hot and spicy - your belly with thank you for it!
- Make plans not to drive at least until the next day – Trust me! It's not a good idea. Driving shortly after a psychedelic experience not only puts you at unnecessary risk, it also puts your support person(s) at great risk as well. Please don't risk complicating their lives or yours by being careless - spend a couple of bucks on an Uber or a Lift.
Much of what is laid out in the section above can apply to the process of "stabilizing our vantage point (how we see the world and our place in it) at as high a state of consciousness as we've ever experienced" which for many, occurred during their psychedelic journey. Cleaning up our diet, regular exercise, relaxing habits, control of media input, limited use of alcohol, and other substances, healthy relationships and of course, some form of meditation practice are important aspects of lifestyle change to consider. And, consistent with the overall focus of this page, having a good cognitive understanding or "map" of what we're doing, why and how we're doing it is also important - continuing to strengthen the foundation we are building upon. Integral Theory is the broadest map that considers the largest number of variables of any such map I've stumbled upon.
This article by Ken Wilber about Integral Theory is a good place to start. In it he lays out the stages of states of consciousness and stages of psychological development and many other aspects of our experience and can be helpful in understanding the challenging process of both Staying Awake as well as Growing Up! It will also help explain why understanding this is important before you enter your psychedelic experience and as you come back into your normal life. Regarding the growing up aspect of this transformation, there are maps of healing our developmental trauma that lay out the process of re-parenting as well as overall understanding of how we come to see ourselves as we do and how psychedelic and mystical experiences can support this healing work.
This understanding of the possibilities for growth and healing is a critical element of your "cognitive map" for the effective use of psychedelics if your intention is lasting self-transformation not simply entertainment. As Huston Smith says in his classic text, Cleansing the Doors of Perception (my modifications), "(psychedelics) appear to be able to induce (mystical) experiences; it is less evident that they can produce (mystical) lives." This is where a disciplined, intentional daily practice and a lifestyle that is supportive of staying awake and growing up comes in. Of course, having these experiences for entertainment is fine too. No worries, just clearly not the greatest potential gain that these substances can bring into our life.
Following your experience make sure you have some time (a day or two if possible) following when you don't have to Do anything, meet anyone’s expectations or anyone else's needs. Carve out some time to simply Be – contemplative time: meditation (here's some support), gentle walks in nature, relaxed exchanges with someone who understands where you have been and what you need - someone who is able to match your energy, depth of experience and broad perspective.
I hope you can see that it's natural and healthy to want to stabilize at the higher state of consciousness that you experienced during your trip. So well before you begin your journey, commit to regularly engaging in the integrative practices that resonate strongly with you: meditation, yoga, QiGong, journaling, supportive friendships, engage with a psychotherapist and/or a body worker, etc. Arrange a meeting with one or more of supportive person within the first couple of days following your journey to help process your experience and your insights - especially how you are coming to see the world and your place in it.
Meditation is considered by many in the psychedelic community to be the Gold Standard of long-term stabilization practices. Joining a meditation group and sitting regularly with them in combination with a daily practice and multi-day retreats is perhaps the most reliable path to the stabilization at a higher state of consciousness. You can find some useful resources here for getting your meditation practice going.
There's another interesting support in your attempt to stabilize the broad perspective you obtained in your journey. It has some elements in common with meditation retreats - time alone, restricted diet and little contact with others, etc. This practice is grounded in the Shamanic tradition called "dieta." It's a special 4 to 5 day diet drawn from trees and other plants and includes special practices that are best guided by skilled shamanic practitioners. You can learn more about this practice here. The couple speaking in this podcast lead ayahuasca retreats so when they say. "dietas can be a more powerful tool for healing than ayahuasca," it means something!
Consider regularly spending time in a Float Tank (Weightless). Playing the music you listened to during your journey may also help bring you back to a higher state of consciousness. Many folks, myself included, find that floats are a valuable support in their effort to stabilize a mystical world view. My personal favorite is combining a 90-minute float with a 40-minute dry sauna. I find this combination to be an amazingly relaxing and stabilizing experience!
Many who have made a psychedelic journey seek reliable guidance either with me or another person qualified to help them integrate effectively (see MAPS' or Psychedelic Support's list of providers). Ideally, establish this supportive relationship months before a psychedelic experience but certainly afterwards and especially if there is any on-going experience of confusion, anxiety, depression, lowered motivation, relationship issues, etc. Remember it can take some time to heal whatever wounds that may have been opened by this experience and time to integrate insights and deeper understandings into your everyday life.
Be patient with yourself, play with the many options you have for support with an open and curious heart. Trust that ultimately if you stay committed to this transformational work and refuse to turn away from the discomfort that is part of any significant life transition. I'm confident that the next step on your path will present itself at the moment you're ready to surrender more fully to the Unfolding Mystery...
Wishing you the best on all of the healing and transformational journeys you take in your life! Let me know how I can support you! John