BY: SYDNEY MCINNIS
Psychedelics: a collection of chemicals that are meant to expand consciousness.
This expansion of awareness is explored by people for all sorts of purposes, many of which are explored in the book Be Here Now by Ram Dass. Of course, like any mind-revealing drugs, they come with their challenges, but “challenging” is not necessarily synonymous with “bad.”
A substance that morphs your reality into something where every moment is colourful and powerful can really fuck you up if approached with an apprehensive mindset. However, it can also reveal to you your sincerest self and perhaps even your destined path.
Dass outlines the pros and cons of exploring psychedelics in Be Here Now. Some of the pros include: arousing spiritual longing, helping users break free of their imprisoning model of reality, and allowing people to transcend habits and fears.
Kayla Grant is someone whose life has been impacted so profoundly by psychedelics that she plans to introduce her passion to those who need to heal. She is currently studying at the University of Toronto, and plans to become a psychedelic therapist.
At this point in time, psychedelic therapy is illegal outside of certain government-approved studies. Grant believes that psychedelic therapy should be permitted in the collection of ways that are available to heal people with mental health issues.
In psychedelic therapy, hallucinogenic medicines are used to assist the patient’s exploration of the psyche and the therapist acts as a nondirective supporter.
Grant will likely be using MDMA for therapy because it will be the most readily available when she finishes her education. She aims to one day work LSD into her therapy with her patients. “I would have to say that I was drawn to psychedelic therapy naturally through my own journey with these medicines,” Grant said. With mental health struggles being a central part of her reality for some of her life, her psychedelic uses allowed her to grow past them.
Out of all of Grant’s revelatory psychedelic experiences, the cherry on top was a nine-day Ayahuasca retreat in Peru. “That experience laid some unshakable foundation for the current, and future, self-work that I am doing. It drove home the importance of mindfulness, my autonomy and trusting my deepest self.”
Grant’s future work will likely emulate some of the ways in which the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies approaches their practices. “It is all very client-centred, where trust is placed in the patient’s ability to heal themselves with the proper support,” Grant said.
Alternatively, there are heaps of people who experiment with psychedelics for much more casual reasons than to experience enlightenment. After all, psilocybin and LSD have a strong presence in today’s casual drug appeal – some people simply want to know what it’s like to feel weird and get high.
Most recreational users aren’t aware of the lengths that the medicines can take your mind to, which potentially can lead them to have a negative experience.
Illustration by Ron Kurniawan.
Dass also wrote about some of the cons that psychedelic users could possibly experience including: the inevitable come down, the feeling of inadequacy after experiencing the euphoria of the medicines, losing touch with reality, and encountering fear and anxiety.
Sabrina Gamrot, a young Toronto resident, has only had psychedelic sessions that have revolved mainly around mind-melting freak-outs. “The reason why I took acid in the first place was because people told me that it would help me to get over this sad period in my life,” said Gamrot. She is not a regular spiritual participant of psychedelics, but she has reluctantly experimented with psilocybin and LSD in the past. Unfortunately, all of her experiences have begun with and ended with a “why did I do that?” feeling. “I feel like every time I’ve done [psychedelics] I was just like, “okay, fine, I’ll do it, whatever,” said Gamrot. “I set myself up to have a horrible time.”
Dass stated: “Anxiety and paranoia are not good states of mind in which to pursue one’s sadhana.” If you go into the experience feeling that it has the potential to be a bad one, then it will likely take a foul turn. You must arrive in an unguarded, receptive state; otherwise there may be a panic attack just waiting to happen.
Escaping the possibility of having a negative experience is entirely feasible. Grant suggests having a therapeutic set and setting in order – set referring to the state of mind that you’re going into the experience with and the setting referring to the external environment you’ll be surrounded by. “Negative psychedelic experiences occur strictly when someone enters into the experience with a resistant headspace,” she said.
Grant is specifically excited by psychedelic therapy because of the potential of having a guide involved in psychedelic sessions. With a guide keeping an eye on the subject throughout the journey, worries become essentially nonexistent.
“Many people do not have the effective tools to navigate these incredible experiences,” she said. “With the proper preparation, guidance, and integration, a “negative” trip is highly preventable.”
Psychedelic experiences can truly be ground-breaking, but what is needed is a guide to eliminate fears and anxieties and encourage incredible growth. Grant stated: “When we visit a new country, we are in a brand new place. Our routine is completely broken down. We aren’t sleeping in our bed, we don’t have our favourite coffee shop to go to, and we may not even speak the same language as the locals. When we are thrown into a space like this, our brain goes into somewhat of a hyper mode, which requires great attention as it maps our “new” reality. This is a prime time for growth. Not only does it get our old mapping nearly entirely out of the way, but it rebuilds a new one – possibly dusting off, and throwing out a few obsolete pieces, as it puts things back together. Now transfer this idea to psychedelic experiences, or often aptly called ‘tripping’ – this exact same process is happening. You may be in a room that you’ve hung out in for the last year but now your perception of that space is completely flipped on its head. It is brand new to you and you engage in that process of remapping.”