The Wisdom of Self-Help Through Psychedelic Experiences

Many people are reading and hearing about the therapeutic use of psychedelic medicines like MDMA, psilocybin and LSD. Michael Pollan’s book on the subject has ignited an interest ..along with numerous podcasts and films celebrating the use of psychedelics to help with emotional problems. I visited a meetup group and took note of the number of people attending who used these drugs to try improve their mental health. I would like to add several notes of caution here.

The research results that are cited are a result of factors that are hard to replicate by yourself: careful screening and skilled preparation for the experience; controlled conditions in a medical setting;  the use of pure substances;  known dosage; the presence of two trained therapists whose primary concern over the course of 6-8 hours is your well-being ; and the use of an integration process to discuss and work through any difficulties that emerged.  Very few people will be able to replicate this situation with all of the safeguards provided in a research setting. The presence of these therapeutic factors is a partial contributor to the good outcomes discussed in the media.

I strongly encourage those who are interested in using psychedelic drugs for self help to try as much as possible to reproduce the research factors listed above.. Please note the age ranges in the actual studies. Too many young adults are experimenting and having negative outcomes. The brain does not complete its development until about age 25..brain maturation is potent factor in how a person responds to events. Being able to hold and understand conflicting sides of the same issue is a sign of maturity as is controlling impulses and considering the long term effects of what you are about to do. The difficult cases I have seen in my office related to to the  unfortunate use of psychedelics have convinced me that doing these in the teen years can be risky. Doing these drugs with a  family history of mental illness is also risky. Doing these drugs either alone or in a recreational setting with no one there to help you is not a good idea…have a support person designated to stay sober and help and then return the favor when you are sober and your friend wants to journey.  Not knowing the source of the drug and not having tested the drug is an additional risk factor. If you are currently experiencing mental health challenges, these drugs can intensify the experience of your current crisis. High levels of anxiety are especially difficult to manage even when you are not in an altered state. Ego dissolution can lead to personal instability and trigger negative behaviors. Many people can be helped but many are not good candidates for psychedelics. Current studies screen out candidates for good reason.

What can help you? I encourage you to gently walk into the experiences of altered states of consciousness…consider  taking a workshop using breathwork to facilitate a gentle immersion into alternative views of your world. You can control how far you go by changing your breathing patterns if the experience becomes difficult. Breathwork workshops have experienced facilitators who can assist you. Alternate states can also be accessed through meditation, centering prayer, drumming, hypnosis, ecstatic dancing, vision quests, flotation tanks and other methods. Begin there and gently immerse yourself as you develop skills to support yourself into and out of differing versions of yourself. Also ask yourself what your motivation is and if now is the right time to enter a potentially destabilizing process.

Please note that I am not able to accept new clients who have had difficult psychedelic experiences and my office doesn’t provide psychedelic therapy as it is NOT legal. If you have had a difficult experience while using psychedelics there is now a trained peer support service accessible to the public, either during the experience or after the experience.

Call the Fireside Project during their support hours at 623-473-7433 or go to their website… to find out more about the services they are currently offering.

I have seen and heard about some heart-breaking and life changing negative consequences of the use of psychedelics. Harm reduction requires you to be knowledgeable about whether or not you are a good candidate for this kind of experience BEFORE you do it. Please take excellent care of yourselves.