Humanity has had a long history of seeking transcendent experiences, and the practice of using psychedelics and other mind altering substances to create these states goes back many millennia.
Psychedelics in Tribal Cultures
The use of psychedelics has been documented in nearly all ancient and tribal cultures all over the world. These plant-derived chemicals helped people connect with nature, both their surrounding ecosystem and their own inner being. They provided transcendent experiences that expanded human consciousness. They dissolved the boundaries of the ego and gave their user a glimpse of something greater than themselves.
Far from being a source of entertainment, in tribal cultures these mind altering plants were often used for healing, and in ceremonies that had to do with major transitions in the lives of individuals and the tribe as a whole.
The Effects of Psychedelics
In low pre-threshold doses, some psychedelics like psilocybin mushrooms are said to enhance vision by improving edge definition. They also enhanced the sense of connection and empathy among the tribes members.
Creativity and open-mindedness are also said to be increased as a result of psychedelic experiences. Many artists, scientists and philosophers, both historical and modern, have been said to have experimented with mind altering substances. These range from Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman and astrophysicist Carl Sagan, to Apple founder Steve Jobs and Microsoft founder Bill Gates, to musicians Jim Morrison and The Beatles, and many others.
At larger doses, psychedelics can produce experiences of spiritual transcendence, the meeting of otherworldly entities, and a deep sense of oneness with the All. On the other hand, fears or deeply hidden traumas may be brought to the surface during these psychedelics experiences, creating so-called bad trips. Some users experience learning profound lessons from their psychedelic experiences, while others do not.
According to visionary Terence McKenna’s theories, psilocybin mushrooms may even aided human evolution, although these theories are speculative.
Modern Era and Controversy
After being somewhat in the shadows for several centuries, psychedelics came to prominence again in the 20th century. Recreational use became more common, particularly during the counterculture and movements of the 1960s and 1970s.
Psychedelics have gotten their share of bad publicity throughout the ages. In the Middle Ages, people risked being declared witches and burned at the stake for the use of these substances. Some religious organizations proclaimed them to be the workings of the Devil. In the 20th century, the “war on drugs” campaigns spread propaganda messages claiming the permanent negative effects of various mind altering drugs. Many of these claims have been debunked since.
Part of the reason for these extreme reactions to the use of psychedelics is the mysterious and poorly understood nature of these active compounds. There is a certain amount of folklore and urban mythology surrounding these substances. Like with other mysterious phenomena, stories and experiences get passed down through the grapevine, often getting enhanced and altered along the way, until they take on a life of their own. These stories can vary from enlightening to terrifying, and from encouraging to cautionary.
It is particularly important to formally study the these substances because the experiences can vary so widely, and can have such significant effects on individuals.
Studies on Psychedelics
In the last 100 years or so, many studies were conducted on the effects on mind-altering substances like LSD, psilocybin, MDMA, DMT, and marijuana. Governments, military organizations, medical scientists, and scholars took an interest in these substances and studied their various effects on animals and humans. Some of these compounds were studied in the lab for their potential medical use as treatment for ailments like depression, post traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, alcoholism, and others. Military studies were also conducted on the effect of some of these substances on obedience, resilience, and concentration. A few other studies focused on the transcendent qualities of some of these substances, namely LSD, psilocybin, and DMT.
Since these substances are highly controlled and illegal in most Western countries, research remains difficult. However, continuing to study these substances and their effects is very important not only for their potential medicinal use, but also for their larger effects on the human consciousness.
In This Episode of Future Thinkers Podcast:
- Why some drugs are legal (nicotine, alcohol, sugar) and others are not
- The Western cultural operating system, the production / consumption cycle
- Personal and cultural stigma with psychedelics
- Psychedelics and dissolving the ego, similarities with meditation states
- Why psychedelics require courage
- Life lessons learned from psychedelics
- Psychedelics and creativity; the difference between the flow state and editing state
- Set and setting, and the proper ways to use psychedelics
Mentions and Resources:
- Consciousness and Environments (FTP020)
- Why drug addiction is not caused by drugs: Rat Park experiment
- DMT: The Spirit Molecule (Full Documentary 2010)
- History of psychedelic therapy
- Do psychedelics expand consciousness?
- People who use psychedelics are less likely to develop mental illness than those who don’t
- Ayahuasca as treatment for major depression
- Terence Mckenna’s stoned ape theory
Download the Meditation App:
The Cutting Machinery Meditation app we made with Vinay Gupta is available for iPhone and Android
Recommended and Mentioned Books:
Food of the Gods by Terence McKenna
DMT: The Spirit Molecule by Rick Strassman
The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
Abundance by Peter Diamandis
“The artist’s task is to save the soul of mankind; and anything less is a dithering while Rome burns. If the artists cannot find the way, then the way cannot be found.” – Terence McKenna
Mike’s psilocybin mushrooms trip report and story, with a time lapse of him creating episode artwork in Photoshop:
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