HomeArticleTwenty-One Thoughts On Psychedelics

Twenty-One Thoughts On Psychedelics

“If the words ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’ don’t include the right to experiment with your own consciousness, then the Declaration of Independence isn’t worth the hemp it was written on.”
Terence McKenna

***PREFACE: Drugs are bad and the government is your friend. Only rebels and subversive dissidents use psychedelics, so you should never, ever do them under any circumstances or it will make you a bad cog in the machine. Everything you’re about to read should be interpreted as a work of fiction or sarcasm or something. Obey.***

The Institute of Psychiatry in London has begun recruiting volunteers for a study on depression treatment using psilocybin, the psychedelic component in magic mushrooms. Late last month the Food and Drug Administration authorized a similar study in the US. About once a week, give or take, we are now seeing new studies, academic reports, books and mainstream media articles about psychedelics and their potential effects on human wellbeing.

They’re calling it the psychedelic renaissance, the first resurgence of mainstream scientific interest in the benefits of psychedelic substances since the government slammed that door and threw away the key in the 1960s. More and more studies are showing that ingesting psychedelics can be a powerful tool for treating disorders ranging from anxiety to depression to addiction to fear of death in hospice patients. These studies are always new and surprising revelations to people who have never tripped.

Here are a few thoughts on psychedelics (or entheogens, as spiritual nerds call them) and their place in the revolution:

1. It has been a few years since I’ve last tripped on any psychoactive substance, but the times that I have have been some of the most profoundly humbling, educational, and formative experiences of my life.

2. The only psychedelics I’ve tried have been LSD, psilocybin, ecstasy, and pot.

3. LSD is like being launched through a forest with a gigantic slingshot, smashing through tree trunks and tearing your flesh on thorn bushes and coming crashing out the other side with a howl of rainbow smoke and elephant tears.

4. Psilocybin is like being gently guided through the forest by a wise, ancient dragon made of tree roots who periodically compliments you on how well you are doing and loves you more than you’ve ever been loved in your life.

5. Ecstasy is like staying on the edge of the forest and licking the bark of the nearest tree.

6. Weed sucks and I hate it. It makes me scared and confused.

7. I recommend psilocybin. Obviously.

8. The first time I tried shrooms I remember being outraged that the law is keeping this experience from people. Everyone is searching for a direct experience of the divine all their lives, whether they realize that that’s what they’re seeking or not, and here it is in a harmless fungus and these bastards put a lock on it. They tell us “No, you can’t have this. Keep having imaginary interactions with God on a hard wooden pew while some douchebag in a costume waves his hands over some wine and a cracker.” Psychedelics should be legal for adults, and the fact that they aren’t is inexcusable.

9. That said, they are illegal. Don’t get arrested.

10. It is well and good that psychedelics are being explored as solutions to psychological disorders. But they are so very, very much more than that. They are so very, very much more than tools of social engineering to fix what’s perceived as broken about people so that they can become useful cogs in the societal machine. A psychedelic experience that is sufficiently deep delivers transformative, penetrating insights into the nature of consciousness, self, love, and indeed the workings of the societal machine itself.

11. Your own self-realization is the greatest asset you can bring to the revolution against the Orwellian oppression machine that is driving our species toward extinction. Your own corner of the oligarchic propaganda matrix is the part that you are most immediately capable of attacking, so freeing yourself from all delusions is the best thing you can do to help take down the unelected power establishment which uses mass media to manipulate the way people think, act and vote. The insights which psychedelics can deliver are extremely useful means toward that end, so if you feel moved to use them, they are there for you.

12. The late, great psychonaut Terence McKenna recommended taking psychedelics in massive “heroic doses” in order to get at these penetrating insights, which for psilocybin mushrooms he defined as five dried grams.

13. The late, great psychonaut Terence McKenna also died at 53. We should probably take better care of ourselves than he did. Don’t build up an ego around how much you’ve taken and what you’ve taken and how regularly you’ve taken it. There are no trophies or awards for out-tripping everyone you know. The goal isn’t to amass a large tally of how many exotic substances you’ve ingested and how much, it’s to come to an authentic personal understanding of the nature of life and your place in the universe. If your own inner wisdom guides you to taking a “heroic dose” in order to get there, I’d be the last person in the world to tell you not to, but any inclination to do it because that’s what the cool kids are doing or so you’ll have an impressive story to tell afterward is born of ego, not wisdom.

14. On a related note, if an experience doesn’t take you to an abiding insight or shift in perception which informs your life once the effects of the substance wear off, it was essentially a wasted experience. As far as self-realization goes, you might as well have spent that time binging on Netflix. Having a cool memory or a cool story won’t take you an inch closer to the truth of your being.

15. People with severe mental health problems, especially schizophrenia, should avoid psychedelics altogether.

16. Psychedelics alone are not enough to take you to self-realization. You must devote your attention to self-inquiry and resolving the fundamental matter as much as possible in each waking moment, ideally training your attention to habitually examine the nature of self and consciousness before even taking your first trip so as to ensure that you get the most out of it. Simply ingesting psychedelics and expecting them to do the work for you is like buying a treadmill and letting it gather dust in the corner. It’s a tool, and you get out of it what you put into it.

17. Just as doing rigorous inner work will enrich your psychedelic experiences, psychedelic experiences will enrich your inner work. They act like how colored dye works for doctors who are trying to see things in imaging scans of the body that they’d otherwise miss; they highlight things about the nature of consciousness and ego that you normally overlook, and those insights act as signposts showing you the way during your regular day to day self-examinations. While conventional drugs have various kinds of numbing, dissociative and escapist effects, psychedelics do the exact opposite: they make everything clearer and more conscious.

18. I like to begin a trip by silently and sincerely asking to be shown what I need to see, and then humbly waiting to be shown. It’s led to surprising insights I couldn’t have gotten at otherwise.

19. Environment is important. You’ll want to be outside in nature and you’ll want to be with people you deeply trust. Having someone experienced with you for your first time will make you feel a lot safer, and that will help you go deeper. At at least one point you’ll probably need someone to tell you “It’s okay, you’ll come back soon enough, just enjoy the ride while it lasts.” If that doesn’t happen, remember me telling you right now that it’s okay, you’re safe and you are loved, this is just a short adventure. You’ll come back soon enough with lots of deep-sea treasures to examine, and everything will be as normal as it was before. Just enjoy it while it lasts.

20. As you shed your illusions and get clearer and clearer, your inner wisdom will come more and more to the forefront. That inner wisdom will advise your psychedelic use, and it will advise your psychedelic disuse as well. If you are tuned in to the inner guidance system which lies beneath the babbling mental narratives, you will at some point stop receiving the guidance to use psychedelics anymore at all, at least for a time. Trust that that is because your psychonautical adventures are heading into different waters, uncharted waters, and enjoy the rest of your adventure.

21. You are responsible for your own consciousness. Not me, not your parents, not your teachers, not the church, not the government, not the police; you and you alone. Do what you think is best. To quote from the Gospel of Terence one last time, “You have to take seriously the notion that understanding the universe is your responsibility, because the only understanding of the universe that will be useful to you is your own understanding.”

Amen, brother Terence. Amen.


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Latest comments

  • Thanks Caitlin. Your thoughts on inner guidance are most important for me. My numerous trips were in the 60’s, but since then my inner voice sent me in other directions. Working in a Sufi group gave me experience of the Divine that was clear and unconfused by drug side effects. The spiritual path is for each of us a unique and unpredictable creative adventure. Vive la differance!

  • Aya will teach you more than chemical drugs. The requirement is that you locate a trusted venue and source.
    San Pedro also is the ‘father’ teacher.

  • PS I find it quite interesting that of all the articles I’ve ever read from you, Caity, this one – far and away – got the most replies/comments.

  • The thing about psychedelics, or any other reality altering substance, is that everyone’s experience is unique to that person. You hate weed; I used to grow it. I tried other things, but always returned to weed, as I got the best highs with the greatest clarity and understanding from it. Conversely, some years ago, I tried cocaine several times per day, for about 7 or 8 days straight, and it did absolutely nothing for me.
    In the same light, I have seen first-hand disasters with personal friends by some of the substances you mentioned. However, I do believe that everyone should be able to do whatever they wish to do, as long as they are not hurting anyone else in the process. I also believe the same of other drugs and that addiction should be a medical issue, not a criminal one. But then, I’m not an oligarch benefitting from sending people to for-profit prisons.

    Decades ago I made deliberate efforts to get clarity and to know my place in the universe. To my satisfaction, I accomplished that decades ago. That is why some others will often think that, when I say or write something, I appear to contradict myself, but that is because they haven’t ‘been’ where I was. In the end, my universe is unique to me and everyone else’s’ (including yours) is unique to them.

    What I am most concerned about is that there are still places in the U.S. where people can be imprisoned for 30 years for possession of a single marijuana joint. And, of course, why the majority of them are people of color.

  • Suggesting that Terence died at 53 because he didn’t take care of himself shows you really don’t know much about the man.

    He died of a brain tumor, not anything related to his ingestion of psychedelics. He took very good care of himself, and had stopped taking mushrooms quite some time before his illness and death.

  • We routinely exploit drugs (whats term something-active chemicals). They have positive affects and uses and negative affects. My wife died from liver damage (suspect advil may have contributed along with excess of alchohol) and was not always there for me and her children.

    Phsycho-active drugs distort perception making problems less or greater makes the banal seem interesting or so beautiful. Truly amature hour.

    We are surrounded by great beauty. The trick is to be receptive to it.

  • I feel like I’ve been on a bad acid trip since 1980 and Reagan…

  • Caitlin, how can anyone hate weed? It is the most wonderful thing on earth after orgasm. I use it to get in touch with my innermost self. It relieves the pain of arthritis and neuropathy and helps me sleep at night as well. I am ecstatic that it is now legal in California, where I live.

  • I have taken nearly every psychedelic there is. I’ve taken acid (LSD) more than 200 times in my life, along with mushrooms and peyote. I recommend them to everyone. They clean out your mind and change your perspective on life completely.

    I use cannabis as well and have for more than 50 years. Besides making you feel good, cannabis relieves chronic pain from arthritis and neuropathy, enabling me to continue to move even with both of these ailments.

    Psychedelics sharpen your perception and your mind. This is why the establishment (whether political or religious) hates them and tries to frighten people away from them. It is also why they make possession of them a crime. Big pharma hates them, too, because they cut into the profits of the drug cartels.

  • I unfortunately do not run in circles where I can avail myself of psilocybin (I would use it in a heartbeat), but I have used Salvia Divinorum 45X several times and have gained from the experience. It produces a very short lived experience, about a half hour, with the added benefit that it is legal in many states.
    Buying cannabis on the street is a coin toss. Most of it is junk. The market caters to people who buy it for a happy time indica buzz, not the head high of a sativa strain which as a creative person I look for. Getting high for the sake of good times doesn’t interest me. It happens on its own, I don’t need drugs to get there.

    • Since it is now legal here in California and in other states as well, it can be purchased at dispensaries in many forms, including edibles and vapables along with herb. I can only vape since I quit cigarettes 6 years ago. My body can no longer tolerate smoke. I also recommend the sublingual drops that contain no THC but actually relieve arthritis and neuropathy pain and increase range of motion.

  • Caitlin, great article on Psychedelics which I haven’t thought about for many years.
    For me it’s been about fifty years since doing that kind of experimentation but recently as I approach my last years and infinity I am considering it.

    Young people today need Psychedelics – they are stuck in a social media and security state matrix of narratives.
    The 60’s need to return with the social upheaval and renewed antiwar movement but I don’t see how it can happen.
    If the US continues on its present course of militarization and censorship I do not see how a major war can be avoided.

    Psychedelics and a spiritual awaking are needed now more than ever.

    • Right on. Thanks for this comment. I agree wholeheartedly.

  • Well-know author Michael Pollan has written a deeply insightful book on psychedelics, its rediscovery and potential for expanding consciousness. The title of this 2018 release by Pollan is How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence.
    Many of the benefits of psychedelics can also be achieved though without resorting to using various substances. Dr Joe Dispenza in his recent book Becoming Supernatural explores meditation techniques, and in particular the Pineal Gland Meditation that will get you to the same place as psychedelic drugs but much more safely. Dispenza weaves in the latest research in neuroscience, quantum physics, and epigenetics to show how this kind of transformation takes place and what it can mean to our lives.
    Best to Take control with powerful meditation techniques, rather than relying on uncertain doses and potencies of various drugs.

  • An interesting post Caitlin – many thanks.

    I took LSD just once in 1973 (once was enough – never again!) and although it scared me half to death it also had a massively positive effect on my own personal development. As a teenager I also experimented with weed and have thought a lot about how to understand and describe its effects. My simple explanation makes sense (at least to me!) of why being stoned can be: a) scary, b) enjoyable (even insightful), c) make you really stupid, d) cause psychosis.

    This is how I would describe the effect of cannabis in simple, down-to-earth language:

    Firstly, a bit about our innate power of attention. We are taught in school to “focus our attention”. This helps us to look at things in detail, study, apply our rational minds, etc. etc. We are rarely taught to defocus our attention – which is necessary when we need to stand back, see the bigger picture, assess where or towards what, we should next place our attention. To live an abundant life we need both of these skills – to focus AND to defocus. Think of your innate ability to focus your attention as if it is a flashlight or torch. You get to choose both where it is pointed and how wide or narrow is the beam. Successful people know how to control and where to place the power tool that is their attention or awareness.

    It is important to recognise that whenever our attention is narrowly focused we become blind to whatever is outside the narrow range of our awareness at that moment. For example whenever we are immersed in an any activity and giving it our fullest attention, we can lose track of time, miss appointments, forget to do stuff, fail to hear people talking to us. It’s a state of flow. (I’m a guitarist – it’s a regular occurrence!). When our attention is narrowly focused we become blind to context – also known as being “caetextic”. But this almost obsessive attention to detail is behind every aspect of progress, in science, in technology, in music, in art, in every discipline in which our species has excelled.

    OK, that’s the background over – how does this relate to weed?

    I believe that, fundamentally, it has two simple effects. The first is that it massively narrows the focus of our attention. Think of the stereotype stoner saying “Oh wow! that’s so i n t e r e s t i n g!” and getting totally absorbed in something that might otherwise seem trivial. Anything examined in sufficient detail will reveal beauty.

    The second is that it makes it difficult to take control of where and on what our attention is placed. Oh look – a squirrel! This is why it can be scary. If we have any anxieties or worries and we are not in control of where we choose to shine our narrowly focused flashlight, then those things will appear magnified.

    One of the things that I learned as a teenager was to take control of where I place my attention. Now, in my sixties I am realising that what goes on inside my head completely determines my experience of the world that is “out there”. In this sense, I am constantly creating my experience of reality (not reality itself, but the way I experience it) – and the more I choose to focus on the things that light me up the more abundant becomes my life.

    Too many of us do not have control over the power-tool which is our mind. We react to situations rather than responding. We do things that we know, intellectually, are harmful to us, or do not make sense. We lose the plot with anger, jealousy, hatred or fear and become anxious or depressed. Studying the innate power of attention and learning to take control of my own attention has been a wonderful gift in my life which started with an interest in psychedelics.

    • I have taken LS more than 200 times. I never was afraid and I never had a “bad trip”. I believe that you must have a certain stability of mind and personality to benefit from the altered states created by the drug. The people who freak out are, in my opinion, not very connected to themselves.

      • Actually, sometimes people who freak out do so out of real necessity. If you see someone getting shot or stabbed while on LSD and you do not freak out, is this healthy and appropriate? Sounds like you’ve had a pretty bubble-wrapped trip experience, my dear, more power to ya, but ya might wanna dial into the real world now and again!

  • Thanks for the great advice Caitlin. I have yet to do ‘shrooms (pot works well for me – it makes me very aware from the inside out) but am planning on it very soon. Like you I am looking not to get high but rather to gather insight and understanding so your article resonates well with me. Thanks.

  • n

    I, like many, remember being very unhappy going into my teens. Cannabis changed all that for me.

    How could it be a target of social oppression? I figured that for the love of society, I would sacrifice myself with marijuana and make obvious why it is among those sacred substances that are somehow criminal for responsible people to possess.

    It’s been a long time now, half a century, and I’ve failed utterly. But not miserably.

    Can’t win them all.

  • As far as abuse and early death goes, my experience with psilocybin has taught me that I don’t need to repeat it often to get a glimpse of what’s in it, on the contrary what I felt and thought those few times that I tried it a very long time ago, has lived within me ever since and has shaped me beyond return.

  • Psychedelics have been shown to interact with a key part of the human brain called the Default Mode Network (DMN). That network is also influenced by long-term meditation practices. The DMN is responsible for three key elements of reported spiritual experiences: the loss of a sense of a separate self, the loss of a sense of self in time and the loss of a sense of self and other. This is one of the reasons for renewed interest in Psychedelic research. The Neuro Scientists and Psychologists now have new information with which to understand brain function and an ability to correlate brain function to reported experiences. With that understanding, the door is open to new therapeutic treatments. This new understanding of brain function also opens the door for connecting the experiences of many spiritual practices observed for centuries. We truly are at a point where science and tradition have met – the proverbial East meets West.

  • Next for you… ayahuasca. And no you do not have to go to South America.

  • A very interesting and educational article Caitlin. You and I share an identical list in those substances we’ve tried, and nearly identical in what we liked and didn’t like except for one; I very much enjoyed LSD every time I dosed, the last time being over 25 years ago. I was lucky to have a trustworthy source who made a run to NYC about once a month and his source provided the cleanest, smoothest paper you can imagine. Batch after batch was consistent so you knew just how much to take according to how far you wanted to go. When he got murdered in a double-cross I tried another source but it was truly awful and I’ve not dosed since. Shrooms were great but it was just the opposite, sometimes I’d eat a whole quarter-oz. and nothing, next time one stem and one cap and off to heaven I’d go.
    Like most kids I thought pot was great, then about by age 30 I got tired of couchlock and said forget that stuff.
    I wanted to mention another weed that the FDA is waging war on; kratom. So far so good, my state and most others still allow its usage. I started using it on the advice from a friend for my neck pain caused by spinal stenosis, and after several trials to figure out which types worked I’ve now cut my daily dose of Advil from 1200mg down to at most 200 and often zero. Sooner or later my kidneys were going to crap out on me if I’d continued using that much ibuprophen, and until I found the kratom the only other pain relievers which worked for my pain were opiates. Kratom is also know to relieve anxiety, increase memory function, is a great sleep aid. And it’s not habit forming. Like anything we put in our systems, common sense should rule.

    • I loved LSD. I took it more than 200 times when I was a young woman in the 1960s and 1970s. I never, ever, had a “bad trip”. It makes me wonder what goes on in the minds of people who were frightened by the experience. Even the freaky moments aroused fascination, not fear. Studies have shown that LSD permanently alters the way your brain works. This has also proven true of learning to read. The mind is a fascinating creation.

  • Very good article as usual. Interestingly psilocybin mushrooms are called “Liberty Caps” in rural England. They had a very beneficial effect on me.

  • just when i was beginning to respect you…..

    horse puckey. sorry.

    • Toni, may I ask why Caitlin is now somehow disreputable? Just curious.

      • People who have never tried psychedelics are not to be trusted.

    • As Caitlin has said
      Your heros will always disappoint you.
      Be your own hero.

      Actually I am not a robot but
      a little bit of a stiff.

  • I attended a concert given by Country Joe and the Fish at Wittenberg [University (?)] sometime before 1968. Recently (!), I attended a show in (aptly named) Grass Valley, CA, where Country Joe McDonald held forth at 75 years of age with a band comprised of psychedelic rockers half his age — well, most of them, anyways. Yes, they did this one, too, to perfection — still rings true for me.

    Hands up Charlie and-uh…
    Now if you’re tired or a bit run down,
    Can’t seem to getcha feet off the ground,
    Maybe you oughta try a little bit of L.S.D.
    Only if you want to
    Shake your head and rattle your brain,
    Make you act just a bit insane,
    Give you all the psychic energy you need
    Eat flowers and kiss babies
    For you and me!

    Thank you for a great post. Timely in a timeless way.

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