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."
The reports below are other composites of similar reports I've received from clients many of whom had experienced abuse and neglect in their childhood. As you will see, they found their psychedelic journey healing and truly transformative. Powerful examples of the healing potential of well-planned, carefully-managed and integrated psychedelic experiences and some tips about how to have a rewarding journey.
1. "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."
2. "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!"
3. "I'm in my early 50's and a few weeks ago, I took 4 grams of psilocybin with an excellent guide. I was the only person taking a journey so he stayed close to me through the entire experience. It was amazing how clear everything became. I saw for the first time that my father's alcoholism did not start with him and not even with his father, it went back further. Who can know where it began? It was the first time I'd felt true love and compassion for him. I saw how my mother's suffering hadn't started with her either. It was like seeing the process of life unfolding without getting stuck in the content of the stories - the same stories that up until now have directed my life, consumed my energy and blocked happiness and joy. Powerful and freeing insights came that "I'm not broken" and "it's not my fault." I can now see the confusion from the conditioning and I know that I'm not the confusion. I am the Light. I'm coming out of the tunnel my childhood experiences put me in."
4. "I had a journey with a heavy dose of psilocybin. My mindset was good as I had prepared over the past few months with journaling, a dozen float tank experiences, eating well & daily meditation. The setting was good, the guide, not so much. She kept interfering, asking questions and pulling me back into the room - not a good thing. I think she was just too anxious and inexperienced to let the process unfold naturally. I found it challenging as the overall experience was quite dark and heavy and I didn't feel supported. I suspect I picked up some of the fear energy of the guide and that contaminated my journey. But on the positive side, I learned that it is safe to let go and I expect next time, I'll be able to push through my fears to the other side. Overall, it was a worthwhile experience."
5. I'm not new to psychedelics. I have used them off and on over the past 20 years or so at concerts, parties and such. But recently, I've been moving toward a more spiritual path with meditation, yoga, healthy diet, exercise, less alcohol, etc. But having a hard time stabilizing these changes. After reading about how folks are using psilocybin to have a "mystical experience," I decided to take the plunge into a 5-gram, isolated, safe place, eye-mask, special music kind of trip. The experience was amazing in a number of ways. The lights and images were still there but I wasn't distracted by them. What arose was a clear understanding of how my life habits, such as using alcohol and partying with a mixture of substances, were keeping me stuck. I also came to appreciate that my old ways of struggling with discipline were counter-productive. I realized that all I needed to do was notice the impact my choices had on my ability to feel healthy, connected and alive. In this process, what was harmful has become less attractive. What was helpful has become more attractive. I don't have to fight with my conditioned habits in order to be free of them. By paying careful attention, they've shown their true colors. I've been surprised by how quickly these "stubborn" habits have fallen away. I no longer drink alcohol, don't smoke, don't eat fatty meals and can't stay inside on a pretty day... Life is good!
Examples of "Bad Trips"
Most of these statements are composites from a number of my clients over the past few years who have had what they describe as "bad trips" - a concept often challenged as it assumes painful, frightening and confusing journeys can not be processed and integrated into healing, transformative experiences. However, this transformation from "bad trip" to "good trip" often requires skilled support and more than a bit of work. I offer these stories as encouragement to prepare carefully and only take psychedelic substances (in a legal way) with a proper mindset, when the setting is supportive, the guide trustworthy and the seeds of integration planted beforehand. 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 little 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 go away. I'm a wreck."
2. "I took a high dose of MDMA with my partner of 5 years after a night of light partying and drinking 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?"
5. (This is an individual report.) I became curious about Kambo after reading about it in relation to Ayahuasca. On a recent trip to NYC I found a Kambo provider, who was available for one session during my stay. For $225 I was inoculated with the Amazon frog serum and guided through a ceremony that involved purging, music then rest, and lasted about 2 hours. It wasn’t a bad experience, and I felt pretty good that evening after a nice meal. But that was it. No relief of digestive problems or helpful insights as I had hoped for. It wasn’t a bad trip, more like, much ado about nothing. I was disappointed and out $225. I contacted the provider about my underwhelming experience, and they said that it often takes at least three sessions to get the full benefits of Kambo. In the back of my mind I knew that people often did more than one Kambo treatment, but my desire for relief encouraged me to take the chance. I now know that were I to encounter “the frog” again, I’d make sure to engage for more than one occasion.
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.