Processing the Psychedelic Experience
The great explosion of psychedelic culture produced by the LSD-driven 1960s brought something that had previously been a fringe spiritual experience carried out by indigenous shamans into the mainstream youth culture of modern America. Needless to say, the experiences that bloomed in the mainstream consciousness thanks to hallucinogenic drugs like LSD, mescaline, magic mushrooms, and DMT took a whole generation (and those that followed) by surprise.
While these compounds are currently Schedule 1 controlled substances in most western nations, they speak to a long history of transcendental psychological and spiritual experiences that have been a major part of human culture for thousands of years. The danger of these substances is not one of physical overdose or addiction, as they are not a large risk factor for either. Rather, the danger with hallucinogenic compounds and psychedelic drugs is the psychological trauma that can be experienced by a user not fully prepared for the experience and without any guidance when it’s over.
The psychedelic experience has been described in many ways by scientists, academics, government officials, and those who’ve actually gone the mile and taken the drugs. In sum, these drugs as a category inhibit the normal conscious functioning of the mind and blur the line between the conscious and unconscious, or what’s “real” and what’s “imaginary.” They dissolve the normal reasoning faculties of the brain and flood it with stimulating serotonin that gives the euphoria and free-associative thought patterns of a dream.
Oftentimes the user will relive repressed memories (which can be traumatic) or see visions of higher planes of life or spirit. The experience can be eye-opening and uplifting, which is what most users report, or it can take a turn down Nightmare Alley and leave the user with a lingering psychotic breakdown or PTSD.
In shamanic cultures, these drugs are administered by an experienced “medicine man” who oversees the user’s “trip” and offers interpretation upon their return to normal waking consciousness, much like a psychologist might offer insight into dream interpretation. If you’re had a particularly jarring or traumatic psychedelic experience, it’s best to find someone who can help you process the experience and integrate what you saw or learned back into your everyday life.
Unresolved emotional or psychological issues that are released or stimulated by a drug experience should be taken to a licensed medical professional who can help you recover from any lingering trauma associated with the event. If we can develop a community of experienced psychedelic users, it’s possible that we can rekindle the educational and uplifting aspects of this ancient tradition. In the meantime, it’s certainly not a party drug and should be respected as an illegal substance in countries where this is the common law.