Blasting Off: Things to Consider Before Trying a Psychedelic Drug
You’re thinking about using a psychedelic drug, but you have some questions. Good. It’s healthy to be skeptical about these strange, intense, illegal, mysterious substances. What compels you to try them? Are you looking to discover something, change something about yourself? Are you looking to connect on a deeper level with your friends? Are you looking to break free from a social or psychological construct which isn’t serving you? Are you merely curious? It’s good that you’re asking questions. Psychedelic drugs require a calm, confident mind to work their magic.
Here I will give some advice on trying a psychedelic drug for the first time.
Is it Natural? Is it a Chemical? Are Chemicals bad?
Terence McKenna, a grandmaster of psychedelic drug use, has this to say about the subject:
In thinking about drugs, here’s how I evaluate a potential substance that I’m thinking about using for self exploration: I say, first of all, does it occur in a plant? If it occurs in a plant, then it’s part of the great ocean of organic life that has developed over billions of years, and has a morphogenetic field that is compatible with life. The other filter is, does it have a history of human usage? If it has a history of human usage, you […] know under what circumstances it’s benign. Thirdly, I think it should have an affinity with ordinary brain chemistry. We don’t want to insult the ordinary brain any more than we want to hit our thumb with a hammer. The most “ordinary” chemicals are the ones that are most akin to neurotransmitters. That leaves DMT, psilocybin, [and] LSD to some degree; these are very close to serotonin, the main neurotransmitter running the brain. So, strangely enough, if you apply all of these limiting features to your choice of substances, you will still be left with the best and the strongest. I don’t think that psychedelic sophistication consists of having taken every drug there is. What it consists of is having a deep relationship with the substance you personally have found to be the one that fits your psychology and somatology most comfortably.
This is good advice. Mushrooms, peyote, and cannabis have a long history of enhancing human life and flourishing, so you at least know they’re not going to kill you or make you any worse off than you were prior to taking them. LSD is also physically benign since its LD50 is so high that you would need to take approximately 82,500 hits to kill yourself. MDMA, on the other hand, has been shown to be slightly neurotoxic, but this is negligible if it is taken at max every 3 months.
McKenna’s last piece of advice–the part I highlighted in bold–is the most important, at least when you’re deciding what kind of drug you would like to take. Are you looking for something totally cerebral and unifying? Try a huge oral dose of hash.
Do you like the idea of giving your mind and body over to an ancient deity, god, or alien entity who will teach you some deep truths about the universe? Are you comforted by nature? Try magic mushrooms.
Are you looking to connect emotionally, on a level you were not even aware existed, with your spouse, or your friends? Do you love to tell and hear stories, to dance, to share? Try taking MDMA.
Do you want to devote your whole day to experience the sublime beauty behind every physical object, every action, every color, shape, sound, and texture? Do you want to be so happy to be alive that you cry and laugh for ten minutes of eternity? Try LSD.
And last but not least, do you want to be astonished by something so impossible that words cannot convey even its perimeter? Do you want to catapult yourself across the cosmos to a dimension which can never be reached by the movement or manipulation of any physical form? Try DMT, alone, on an island.
I personally don’t think any of the “natural” chemicals are any healthier than the “artificial” ones. The distinction I see is somewhat akin to the difference between an apple and an apple computer. Both are benign and even healthy in modern life when they are used appropriately for their intended purposes.
What Should I Expect a Psychedelic Drug to Feel Like?
Psychedelics dissolve barriers and topple hierarchies. They expand and fill consciousness. They resolve the tension of the work-a-day world and combine memories and thoughts in novel, peculiar ways. It is no wonder that psychedelics are “scary” and illegal almost everywhere; they are anti-authoritarian, anti-status-quo, and contrary to any “stable” structure on top of which the type of society we currently occupy was built (it was built on alcohol).
The psychedelic mood makes one question his/her place in various social structures and dominance hierarchies. It produces a state of being where ego doesn’t matter. Status and money seem like burdens, and government laws, workplace rules, and social etiquettes suddenly appear restrictive and arbitrary. The user reverts back to a childlike state of wonder, full of confidence, noticing all of the ways that the system has failed to bring about any lasting happiness, that everything a person needs to live a good life is right under their own nose. It gives a person, more than anything else, a sense of responsibility and agency.
Psychedelics force you to be honest with yourself. They throw you out into a forest alone and tell you to survive. They rip out your mind, put it on display, and ask you to poke and prod it. Cannabis and LSD, in my experience, can reliably produce this totally, completely honest state of mind.
Sometimes the truth hurts. Sometimes you will realize something about yourself that you don’t like. Sometimes horrible memories will manifest, and you will be forced to deal with them. While it is essential to slay your demons, it is by no means easy.
At the very worst end of the spectrum, psychedelic drugs can make you temporarily lose control of your mind, even resulting in full-blown hallucinations. Trips can transform into paranoid episodes, in which some malevolent “other” seems to be controlling your mind, and hides just around every corner, plotting and conspiring against your wellbeing. This is the canonical “bad trip” which occurs in other psychedelic experiences, particularly magic mushroom trips.
The best way I’ve discovered to escape a bad cannabis trip is to imagine this “other” as a physical entity, like a dragon, and then to imagine yourself slaying it in some imaginative way, like with a flaming sword. This has worked for me on countless occasions.
But if you’re not into violence, another foolproof method is to give into the terror and fear and accept whatever evil it is that is haunting you. Soon, you will realize that these terrors are only parts of yourself, manifested from deep within your subconscious mind.
You must either accept and live with these terrors or slay them and move on: that’s the only way to go.
Set and Setting
A “set” is your present mental state. Are you happy, sad? Have you finished your homework? Are you in the midst of any emotional turmoil? However you’re currently feeling, expect to feel that same emotion, but a thousand times more powerfully. You shouldn’t do a psychedelic drug if you want to mask a problem or change your present state of mind. They don’t do that. They only enhance what is already there, inside of you.
“Setting” refers to your physical surroundings. It is not a good idea to drop acid for the first time in a busy nightclub. Somewhere you feel extremely comfortable, like in your bed at home, is a much better setting. Be around people you trust and you know you can rely on if something goes wrong. This reassurance will keep you safe and secure, ready for blast off.
I’ll repeat the point of set and setting again for good measure: psychedelic drugs enhance or exacerbate pre-existing perceptions and
mental states. They clarify and magnify them. They do not mask problems–they will make them worse. But to end on an optimistic note, if you do them when you’re happy, in a comfortable place, alone, or surrounded by people you like, you will have the time of your life, and you’ll never look back.
Thanks for reading, safe travels, and remember to comment or email me with any questions or thoughts regarding psychedelics or cannabis.