Modes of Psychedelic Use|
Chapter 04: Psychedelic Information Theory
When talking about pharmaceuticals it is widely assumed that a drug is a drug. What I mean is when we think about drugs we assume that if person A takes drug B in X amount and outcome C happens, then outcome C should be the same every time person A takes drug B in X amount. For the most part this is essence of clinical drug therapy and pharmacology; we expect drugs to give us the same results every time we take them. But this is not true with psychedelics.
Well, it is true up to a point. You can take person A and give them 250 micrograms of LSD on one day and they will certainly have a hallucinogenic trip. If you give that same person 250 micrograms of LSD the very next week they will also have an hallucinogenic trip. But the qualitative differences between the two trips, the content, and the effects of the trip on the individual could be profoundly different given the specific circumstances of each trip. One episode could be very mild and dreamlike, filled with warmth and hope; the next trip could be emotionally jagged and uncomfortable, filled with anxiety and obsessive paranoid ideation. The notion that the effects of psychedelics are dependent on the ingestion context was best summarized by Timothy Leary in the nomenclature of "Dose, Set, and Setting" in an attempt to deconstruct the elements which make up the psychedelic X-factor. While "Dose, Set, and Setting" is a good enough shorthand for most clinical work, is should also be noted that all of these things fall under the general heading of what I call ingestion context. Ingestion is the first spark of psychedelic information transmission, and the precise quantum chain of events which lead up to the zero moment frames the entire ingestion context. It is widely assumed dose (type and quantity of drug taken), set (emotional mind set of the user), and setting (local variables) are the primary contextual components which influence any trip, and in themselves comprise many distinct variables.
We will attempt to define why ingestion context is so important to trip content in later chapters detailing the nuts and bolts of the trip, but first we are faced with another challenge: In understanding the full effects of psychedelics, one must understand the varieties of contexts in which they are ingested. Although the context of ingestion varies wildly across the spectrum of human use, it is helpful to break down the primary motivators that bring any particular subject to the psychedelic moment. Understanding these initial "sets" or "contexts" will be helpful later when detailing the types of effects that can spin out of each mode.
The earliest known context for the use of psychedelics and one that is still popular today is the Shamanic context. Of all the known uses of psychedelics, the shamanic context is probably the most widely fascinating and poorly understood by Western culture. Typically when one thinks of a shaman we think of a painted healer waving a bone rattle over a fire and wailing out some ancient atonal drone. This is not far from the truth, nor is it the entire truth. Traditionally the shaman is a healer, but also a priest, a psychologist, a fortune teller, a magician, and often a warrior, all rolled into one. In tribal communities the shaman is responsible for learning and passing down plant lore and plant technology, and acting as doctor, chemist, spiritual leader, and personal counselor for the entire tribe. It is a very important, complex, and tricky position for anyone to have, and the shaman must take his role seriously or the whole tribe will suffer as a consequence.
The other role of the shaman is to walk between worlds, to journey across the barrier of life and death into the spirit world, to speak with the gods and ancestors, work dark magic, and in effect pull new supernatural 'wisdom' back from the void. Not only must the shaman seek this wisdom, the shaman must be careful about how he applies that wisdom, for it is well known that the spirits often play tricks on us humans. So above all the shaman must be alert, astute, and constantly analyzing the results of his technique to further improve his methods, preferably without making any deadly mistakes. It is a very difficult position indeed.
While it is easy to romanticize the power and the image of the shaman, it must be remembered that they are only human, and their 'power' comes from nothing more than a heady mix of science, superstition, theatrics, and a little help from their plant allies. Since many people have a hard time embracing the notion of 'shamanic power' or the use of plants or chemicals as 'allies', it may be helpful to couch these concepts in different terminology so that everyone, even the skeptics, can get the picture. In addition to using psychedelics as a therapeutic agent, the shaman also uses the psychedelic as a performance enhancing drug. In the shamanic context, the use of the psychedelic is an aide to a wide spectrum of shamanic work, it is a tool. The psychedelic enhances the shamanic vision, it aides in shamanic diagnosis, it enhances the shaman's theatrical performance, and enhances his influence over his patients and the tribe at large. In short, the shamanic context is a use in which the psychedelic is ingested towards some utilitarian end, and the shaman uses ritual, craft, and technique to channel the power of the psychedelic towards the end state or goal.
While Western medicine has been slow to embrace the reality of shamanic power, there is little doubt in my mind that the power of the shaman is real and explicit, up to a point. There is a specific kind of psychic fluidity, or magic, unlocked by the use of a psychedelic in a shamanic context, and channeling that magic (when done correctly) can work wonders. We will discuss the fundamentals of shamanic technique later in section three, but for now let's just assume that there is at least some kernel of truth to the power of the psychedelic when ingested in a shamanic context.
Ritual / Sacramental / Mystical / Entheogenic Context
Often confused with the shamanic context, the ritual or sacramental context is more one-dimensional than shamanic context, and as we will examine in a moment, is actually closer to recreational use in terms of context and outcome. In the shamanic context there is a multiplicity of goals and techniques that are applied to leverage the psychedelic state to an extreme range of uses, but in the ritual or sacramental context there is typically only one goal, and that is to seek communion with some form of higher mind or power for a vaguely defined notion of higher consciousness or spiritual awakening. The psychedelic is ingested with the hope that the spirit will be lifted from the body, that grace will imbue the physical form, that godlike wisdom will suffuse the mind, that an embrace with unity will overcome the smallness of the self, and that the mind of god will become manifest for the user to behold. This ritual or sacramental context may be overseen by a shaman, who may also be seeking many of the same goals, but the context of the spiritual seeker taking a communion is much different than that of the shaman leading the show. They are far different in approach and outcome, so it is best not to confuse the two.
Because the sacramental context can be easily deconstructed in terms of ritual craft, desired neurologic end-state, and emotional outcome, it is a tad less mysterious than the dynamic spectrum that comprises the entire shamanic context. However, sacramental use may be the most popular psychedelic use of them all. To illustrate my point I will only say this: It takes a very skilled, multi-faceted, sane, and dedicated individual to approach the varied dimension that is the shamanic context of psychedelic use, but anyone who is willing to take a drug and watch a show can have the ritual sacramental context in just a few hours. In essence, the ritual of sacramental context comes down to that of the individual supplicating themselves to the power of the psychedelic state (or to the shaman) and letting the magical synchronicity of the psychedelic do its thing. Being a participant in a ritual takes no special skills or training, and having a mystical communion with god under the influence of a psychedelic is something anyone can do regardless of faith (or lack thereof), and can translate in the real world into something as mundane as dropping a few hits of acid in the parking lot of a Grateful Dead show. With or without knowing it, this easily qualifies as a ritual sacramental act, with the end desire being some kind of vaguely defined notion of spiritual unity or access to a higher mind.
Although there are varying degrees of interpretation on how much influence psychoactive plants had on the formation of world religions, it is almost certain that they at least had some role. There are many good books detailing the spiritual use of psychedelic plants throughout the ages, so I will not go into too much detail here about Vedic soma, mushroom cults, the Mysteries of Eleusis, new and old world shamanism, etc., suffice to say that psychedelics (mushrooms in particular) have always for very obvious reasons been linked with religious myth, mysticism, and spiritual imagery from at least the beginning of written history (circa 4,000 BCE).
Instead of rehashing the historical sacramental psychedelic stories pieced together by archaeology, anthropology, and the emergent field of entheobotany, I would instead like to focus on why these substances produce such profound mystical states, and how they can have such a deep emotional impact on the people who experience them. This particular spiritual use of psychedelics has led to the coining of the modern word "entheogen" which is a generic term for something which awakens the spirit of the divine within. It is common among the true believers (those who use psychedelics as a sacrament) to use the term entheogen instead of psychedelic or hallucinogen when referring to visionary plants and chemicals, implying that the sacred effects of psychedelics are the only properties worth mentioning. I can see this as a perfectly understandable reaction to the bad rap psychedelics have gotten in popular consciousness, but still I prefer the blanket term psychedelic to entheogen, because psychedelic (meaning mind manifesting) encompasses a broader aspect of the experience than the one piece that can accurately be classified as entheogenic. However, for a great majority of psychedelic users, it is the entheogenic experience that they seek (as opposed to the paranoid psychotic experience, for instance), and the terminology they use is an essential part of shaping the context and outcome of their trip.
The fact that psychedelics are able to key into the innate human ability to experience mystical states is really no longer a subject of debate, the questions posed now are, "How is it best accomplished?" and "What kind of lasting effect does this have on the individual?" This is another topic that will span many portions of this book, and depending on your world-view you may take more kindly to one explanation than another. Again, the duality between "Drug-Induced Delusion of Grandeur" and "Valid Mystical Experience" is always invoked when trying to open up this subject, and the way you are likely to feel depends primarily on your particular attitude towards mysticism in general. Either way, the spiritual impact of the psychedelic experience on world culture has been profound, and by the end of this book I hope to show just why that is.
Exploratory / Academic / Scientific / Research Context
While the shaman usually gets all the glory, the Academic or Exploratory context is certainly the earliest primal context under which psychedelics were discovered. There are numerous myths of the ancient warrior wounded in battle, finding the "magical food of the gods," the plant that gave him the vision and strength to help defeat the enemy or overcome some obstacle. And before the job title of "Warrior Shaman" ever existed, we were walking monkeys out hunting for good sources of cheap protein; we would eat anything that didn't make us puke blood, and even then we might give it a second shot. Really, it was only a matter of time before we discovered the psychedelic plants (or, if you are so inclined, until they discovered us).
The original academic explorers were the first shamen, those who dared eat and chew and boil and brew all the bitter plants, roots, and fungi that could kill or cure depending on how they were applied. This knowledge did not come fast nor did it come easy. Countless bodies have fallen due to accidental ingestion and overdose along the way, but knowledge is retained and plant lore gets passed down with the hope that deadly mistakes don't get repeated. Although the scientific method wasn't properly defined until a few centuries ago, people have been experimenting with plants on a trial-and-error basis since the beginning of time. The folklore gets passed down through oral tradition, song, and ritual. It is not hard science, but it works. Methods are ingrained, knowledge is compressed into songs and chants and drum beats, and the crude science of transcendence eventually emerges in the full shamanic mode. In a way, the shaman is the primordial scientist, the ur archetype for all the scientific disciplines which splinter out of the simple task of exploring our world in a methodical basis and figuring out how to accurately pass our knowledge along to others. And this is ancient stuff we are talking about, the very root of the tree of knowledge, and the exploratory potential of the human mind does not get much deeper than this.
Although the traditional shamanic models are hinted at in ancient art and religious texts, the knowledge of these rites were repressed as remnants of pagan witchcraft under the rise of Christianity in the West. Psychedelic lore went underground for thousands of years, considered the Devil's work, and was only for the witches and barbarians who were going to burn in Hell for their sins. While monks, poets, and alchemists may have dabbled here and there with their personal stashes of pipe-weeds and fresh fungi, the widespread academic study of psychedelics did not hit its stride until the 20th century, when the simmering psychedelic pot literally boiled over into popular consciousness. With the rapid-fire discovery/synthesis of Mescaline, DMT, and LSD, the 20th century kicked off cascading series of research events that culminated in the groundbreaking lifelong work of Alexander and Anne Shulgin, authors of PIHKAL and TIHKAL, which catalog their exhaustive research with hundreds of never-before-seen psychoactive phenethylamines and tryptamines. In the short time between the Western popularization of psychedelics (1950s-60s) and their ultimate ban (1968-72), psychedelic research was a literal boom that promised to revolutionize the way we thought about the brain. Even in the time since they have been banned, devoted amateurs like the Shulgins, Jonathon Ott, Terence McKenna, Earth and Fire Erowid, and many others, have done an amazing amounts to continue the research, go farther, and uncover more knowledge. Scientific professionals have banded together under organizations like MAPS and the Heffter Institute to further psychedelic research in delicate times. And, you know, normal people get curious and try new things for all kinds of reasons. I mean, everybody likes to try new things, right?
While often taken for granted, the exploratory, academic, and research models have been building up speed lately, and may even legitimize psychedelic use in one way or another for at least some modest means. It is also important to point out that the motivations and expectations of those pursuing the academic model are hugely different than those who solely pursue the shamanic or entheogenic model. Understanding the differences between these models is essential when trying to understand the different types of experiences they can produce.
I must admit, when I was first drawn to psychedelics it was a curiosity impulse that pulled me. I was young, and something vague told me there was an immense mystery here, and they represented something I did not have all the answers to. But I did not try psychedelics blindly, I did a little reading first, and quickly came to realize that there was indeed something very mysterious here, something even scientists and noted experts couldn't fully explain. Well, that was the context for my first experience with LSD, and here I am 15 years later, still driven by that initial impulse, but now finally satisfied that this mystery has been resolved, at least to my own satisfaction. While I may have been initially curious about the entheogenic aspects of psychedelics, what ultimately kept me fascinated with them was not the spiritual aspect, but a more clinical, human desire to explore the boundaries of my own mind, and to understand how it all worked. The difference between the entheogenic model and the academic model is the difference between wanting to know the 'mind of god' and wanting to know thyself. The two pursuits are intimately intertwined, but the approach to each of them, and what we hope the achieve within each context, differs vastly.
Rite of Passage / Bonding / Social Hierarchy / Mating Context
This is another mode of psychedelic use that is often overlooked and/or poorly understood. To most people, the act of intoxicating oneself to near oblivion amongst a social peer group is possibly the most deviant and decadent thing one can think of. The Rites of Passage or Cultural Bonding use is most often mistaken for recreational use, and the deeper significance of these extreme social events is totally missed. However, the traditional use of psychoactives in social rite-of-passage or cultural bonding contexts is well studied and well documented in both tribal and modern cultures. In the West (like many places in the world) this ritual usually involves loud music, dancing, heavy consumption of intoxicants, and sexual experimentation. Psychedelics, of course, will always creep into this mix.
What many people fail to realize is that the consumption of intoxicants and how one behaves under the influence of intoxicants is a kind of culturally applied behavioral test, and one that spans many thousands of years. The ritual consumption of intoxicants in coming-of-age rituals is common throughout the world, and each culture has its own intoxicants and methods it applies amongst its own to test their mettle and see what kind of stuff they're made of. The ability to cope with a derangement of the senses is a challenge and a test of the will, and of all the intoxicants it can easily be said that psychedelics can be the most challenging to cope with, and thus the most extreme of the social rites to go through. Psychedelics can cause massive derangement of the senses, the spurting out of repressed desires, delusional ideation, inappropriate behavior, etc., and thus they are the "Mount Olympus" of social bonding-rite intoxicants.
As we will discuss in great detail in the third section of this book, a group of people who take psychedelics together over long periods of time will form extremely intimate social bonds, and will know each other like no one ever has including their own families. The implications for the formation of cults around the use of psychedelics is explicit, as we have seen from both ancient and recent history that psychedelic cults can pop up as fast as mushrooms after a warm spring rain.
In the traditional Rite of Passage context, the ingestion of the psychedelic is considered to be something akin to a "Hero's Journey," a dangerous and rewarding quest for knowledge that can only be embarked upon with someone you trust with your life. Within the psychedelic space the initiate is shown that reality is an illusion, or that the spirit world exists, or that there is more to the world than we normally see with our eyes and hear with our ears. With the unveiling of this "secret" comes the sacred bond of trust and responsibility that is bestowed upon the initiate by the elders, and the initiate likewise promises to take this trust and not abuse the secret or wield its power unwisely. The acceptance of this new responsibility by the initiate culminates in the "realization" that they are no longer a child, and must now cleanse themselves of childish beliefs and behaviors and be re-born fully as adults, with the new responsibilities as warriors, husbands, wives, hunters, parents, and contributors equals among the tribe.
In the modern context, much of this traditional baggage gets blurred into a mélange of complex mating rituals established to form hierarchies within cultural subgroups. The modern world does not have a codified psychedelic "coming of age" ritual that applies across all subcultures, so there is a weird mix of tradition, pop fads, dating ritual, and adolescent social bonding that typically gets thrown together on the fly, and is swept under the heading of "recreational" drug use. But these are real coming-of-age trials that are happening here, no doubt about it. Because they are unsupervised does not make them illegitimate. Adolescents are driven by an unusually strong desire to fit in and mix with their peers in the hopes of sexual contact and the formation of long-term mating and social bonds. Psychedelics only amplify this mix. In the absence of other more immediate coming-of-age rituals, the adolescent and post-adolescent subcultures formed around the use of psychedelics nonetheless create complex rituals of their own. Some of these rituals may be purely superficial, others may involve some explicit form of sexual freedom among members, others may be official or unspoken cultural bonds that are allowed to be bent or broken between members, a secret place of trust where ad-hoc neo-tribalism and raw social experimentation can be explored.
In the era of prohibition and with few or no proper guidelines to follow, these modern psychedelic subcultures are generally doomed to remain small, incestuous pockets within the larger culture. Many of the people who fall into these bonding groups think they are the first ones ever to step so boldly into unknown territory, but that is generally because they are unsupervised, uneducated, and making it up as they go along. Of course, cults and occult subcultures have been falling into the same trap for centuries if not since the beginning of time, and they seem to be doing no real damage to the evolution of society in general, so maybe it is inevitable that these affinity groups form and do what they do. It is my estimation that many of these groups eventually sputter out or crumble as members run the course of intense social bonding, burn bridges, get tired of one another, move on, etc. However, it must also be noted that the larger the central affinity group becomes, the more stable it becomes over time, having more built-in mechanisms to deal with internal tensions between members. Also, geographically isolated communities will always manage to hold together over longer periods of time, even though the lifestyle may be completely impenetrable and extreme to people on the outside. The lack of "outside world" stimulus only makes the communal bonds stronger and more codependent, thus harder to walk away from.
The most intense examples of modern psychedelic subcultures have been the Hippie movement of the '60s, the Rave movement of the '90s, and the long train of Dead-Heads (die-hard fans of seminal hippie jam band The Grateful Dead) that connected these two psychedelic movements across the generation gap. All three of these large psychedelic subcultures were rooted in the superficial trendy elements of popular fashion and music, but the ethos and complex rituals formed within each community was unique and distinct, and the rituals were codified to the level of political platform, religious dogma, and philosophical treatise. And within each of these vast cultural movements there were hundreds if not thousands of micro-communities, intentional subcultures, and psychedelic affinity groups that used the ingestion of psychedelics as a mode of complex social interaction and interpersonal (and transpersonal) communication. When contrasted with the shamanic, academic, and entheogenic context, we can see that the utility and desired outcome for this "cultural rites and social bonding" mode of psychedelic use are vastly different than any of the others, and once again this is crucial to understanding the many levels on which psychedelics work, and why people use them.
Clinical / Therapeutic / Medicinal Context
I list this modality separately from both the shamanic model and the academic model for good reasons. The therapeutic model is a Western adaptation of the shamanic model, and one that is adapted to a very narrow range of uses. Due to prohibition this model has not had much opportunity to evolve, though some early protocols have been established and exploratory clinical work has begun. When we think of the therapeutic model we tend to think of a Patient and a Specialist (a psychotherapist or M.D., for example) having an emotionally raw psychedelic session in which repressed issues are washed clean through analysis or catharsis, giving the patient new hope on the path towards healing (or conversely, accepting their mortality). This is an overly generalized way of thinking about it, but it is technically accurate.
In the therapeutic model the Specialist is substituted for the Shaman, and instead of songs and chants and bone-rattles, the Specialist has protocols, graphs, and sensitive monitoring equipment. The therapeutic model overlaps with the shamanic model in many ways, but the Specialist is not generally concerned with fortune telling or spirit channeling or necromancy or any of the other traditional tribal shamanic roles other than psychological healing.
It seems obvious that this is the most untapped modality of psychedelic use. To those who have found psychedelics rewarding, the therapeutic potential is indisputable, and it seems we've only scratched the surface. It is hard to say how well Western culture will be able to adapt shamanic models to the context of clinical therapy, but there are undoubtedly more ways in which these substances could be used therapeutically. Section three of this book, which talks more about shamanic technique in the context of healing, takes a more in-depth look at the promises and limitations of psychedelic therapy.
Creative / Artistic / Visionary Context
The fine arts represent the collective voice of our culture, and the arts should be counted among humanity's greatest accomplishments. Visual art, music, fiction, theater, film, architecture, there is no art form that hasn't been influenced in some way by the psychedelic aesthetic. Beyond being a drug and a state of mind, 'psychedelic' has become its own artistic genre, leaking into poetry, music, literature, fashion, visual art, film, and slick corporate merchandising with great efficiency and market penetration. I would wager that entire genres of art and music such as Surrealism and Op art; Gonzo journalism; and Techno, House, and Trance music would not exist today without the psychedelic influence, and that even these fringe psychedelic movements eventually become appreciated, co-opted, and ultimately embraced by the mainstream.
All artists must get their inspiration from somewhere or something, and as far as artistic muses go psychedelics come in somewhere around Love and God near the top the list. I include the creative and visionary context as separate from the shamanic or entheogenic context because it seeks it's own specific goal: the spark of something fresh within the imagination. In many ways the visionary quest of the artist is the same as any shamanic quest, but it is a highly specialized sub-category of pure shamanism that can apply to any artistic type who may have very little actual interest in traditional shamanism per se.
The artist, or the creative visionary, is seeking different things than the academic or the shaman or the mystic. Some might say that the artist is driven more by secular narcissism (the unique personal vision) than transpersonal mysticism (the shared universal vision), though the two different motivators are often closely related, and tap into the same internal forces to feed their needs. The mystic seeks unity and harmony, peace and wisdom; the artist may seek that as well, but also desires a creative catalyst, a divine spark of inspiration that will lead ultimately to a finished piece of artwork. The creative, visionary context is possibly the purest example of psychedelic information theory expressing itself through time: The psychedelic interacts with a higher life form, and through the psychedelic interaction a new work of art is born into the world. Instead of a vague notion of "change" within the individual to gauge the outcome of a specific trip, the artist produces a concrete image or song or vision that can be transmitted to others as a form of non-verbal communication. This is cultural transmission at its fullest materialized expression.
Other than recognizing that this motivation exists, I will not be discussing this context in much detail throughout this work. The motivations of the artist are deeply personal and self-sustaining, and usually the artwork which is produced speaks for itself. The role of the psychedelic in the artistic process is important, but from an analytical standpoint it is not all that mysterious. Creative types find inspiration in all sorts of things, and even a single, relatively cheap hallucinogenic voyage can give an artist years of inspiration. So the question of creative use, to me, is not really why, but why not?
Of course, some may argue that the oeuvre of psychedelic art is kitschy and synthetic, overly fascinated with the kaleidoscopic, grotesque, and bizarre. While it is true that much of the artwork influenced by psychedelics cannot be classified as "great works of art," the same can be said for any genre of art or artists; most of it is dreadfully mediocre. Though it is impossible to know how many classical masterpieces may have been influenced by psychedelics through the ages, it is obvious that even within the cartoon ghetto of modern psychedelic art, true masterpieces can, and do emerge.
Ego Escapist / Obsessive / Self Destructive Context
Over the many years I've been exposed to various facets of the psychedelic scene, nothing has troubled me more than the reality that bona fide psychopaths, schizophrenics, maniacs, depressives, and bipolars were indulging in hard core psychedelic use. In some ways I identify with this phenomena and yet it is still difficult to come to terms with. In the most extreme of cases of what I call the "contra-indicated" set are the psychedelic users who have consistently negative, obsessive, violent, inappropriate, or confrontational episodes while under the influence of psychedelics, yet continue to take more psychedelics anyway. These people excel at feats like paranoid delusion, self-indulgent fits, and driving loved-ones away, and are more often than not just barely tolerated by the psychedelic subcultures who pride themselves on openly embracing oddballs.
In short, the only thing I can come to glean from these users is that they don't like themselves very much, or that they are overly in need of attention: personal attention, sexual attention, medical attention, etc.. It would be convenient to be able to pin these socially deficient behaviors on a specific neurochemical state, but I suspect it is a bit more complex than that. The ingestion of the psychedelic allows these people to act out in ways that are generally inappropriate, and yet still get away with it. I also suspect that in some cases being on psychedelics feels more "normal" and "liberating" for these people than being mired in their everyday, sober, anxiety-laden obsessive pathologies.
Now I am big enough to admit that we are all neurotic and pathological to some extent in our own little ways, but there is good evidence to show that obsessive and self-destructive mind-sets have a very solid neurochemical foundation, and that psychedelics, when applied to certain "contra-indicated" personalities will only bring out the absolute worst in these people. The fact that we know this, and that "contras" continue to flock to psychedelics tells me that there is something unusual going on here. Perhaps acting out in a psychedelic context gives the contras a sensitive, supportive community willing to feed their pathologies, thus giving them a healthy outlet for otherwise inappropriate behaviors. Perhaps the contra really does seek destruction of the self and ego, and does it through ever-increasing doses of psychedelic oblivion, eliciting all sorts of strange and unusual behaviors along the way.
It is an interesting question to investigate, especially given recent evidence that SSRIs (like Prozac) can cause extreme suicidal ideation in people who already have depressive tendencies. SSRIs affect the same aminergic systems as psychedelics, systems that modulate mood, emotion, and many fundamental human behaviors, so it is interesting that simple tinkering with the serotonin supply in the brain could cause a suicidal response in some people. It begs the question: Can sociopathic, pathological, and even suicidal behaviors be turned on and off with the firing of a simple neurochemical switch? It is a scary topic to consider, but one that should not be thrown out simply because it is scary. Suicidal ideation is very certainly a known side-affect of contra-indicated psychedelic use, and there are numerous stories of people jumping out of windows or off rooftops, and committing all sorts of grizzly acts under the influence of psychedelics that no one could ever possibly understand because they are, well, crazy.
The truth is, some people take psychedelics because they are drugs and you can take them, and they don't care what happens as long as they are "wasted" while they are doing it. These are extreme examples of runaway indulgent psychedelic behavior, and can lead to (or may be caused by) sociopathic tendencies. Of all the modalities this one may be the hardest to decipher because its context is so poorly defined. Why do crazy people like getting crazier? Why are the weird drawn into more extreme versions of behavioral oddity? It is a complex question, and though the neurochemical basis of deviant behavior will be addressed in a little detail later, the overall reason or meaning of this type of psychedelic use cannot be adequately addressed within the bounds of this text.
Antisocial / Psychotic / Sociopathic / Messianic / Megalomaniacal Context
This category is either its own extreme version of the self-destructive context or else it is the polar opposite, but the antisocial or sociopathic context is perhaps the most dangerous form of psychedelic use I can think of. In this context, the user is typically already delusional or sociopathic and uses psychedelics to further his or her own manipulative ends. The messianic or megalomaniacal user will adapt shamanic techniques for use as mind control over others, exerting power and using people as pawns and puppets in their own grand schemes. And as I illustrated in the colorful preamble to this book (Late Night Notes from the Alien Hybrid Messiah), psychedelics can very easily tap into the messianic or megalomaniacal parts of all of us.
This is the stuff Manson was made of, and the stuff cult leaders freebase in the dark recesses of their souls. It is not hard to convince yourself that you are god or the devil or anything in between when you are under the influence of a psychedelic, and it is not hard to convince others of that while they are under the influence either. Using the transformative power of the psychedelic to bend others to your will is perhaps the darkest and most deviant form of shamanism known. But it is real, let's not forget that. It's nice to think that you could never be brainwashed or abused under the influence of psychedelics but the odds are not with you here. The pliability of the psyche under the influence of psychedelics is something that can be leveraged for good or evil, and it can be used on just about anyone. I already mentioned MKULTRA, the U.S.A.'s own clandestine foray into the search for the perfect brainwashing / interrogation / psychological torture / mind-control technique, but rest assured that Russia, the UK, China, and many other military industrialized countries have also had or continue to have such programs which explore the use of psychedelics in this way. The utility of psychedelics in brainwashing and mind control cannot be understated, and their potential for abuse in this capacity cannot be glibly ignored.
I will be discussing megalomania and antisocial pathology is some detail later, and this context should not be lightly dismissed. Psychedelics have been found at the center of enough destructive cults for us all to know better by now. By nature I am suspicious of any group or religion that uses psychedelics as a sacrament because I know how easily people give themselves over to fanciful delusion, and how easily the ritual power of psychedelics can be abused. You have been warned.
And finally, our favorite modern context that is not really all that modern, the good old recreational trip. There is much to be said about psychedelics, but one thing that cannot be said with enough emphasis is that they are fun. Yes, psychedelics can be scary, but so can a roller-coaster and people line up for blocks to ride those. Psychedelics can be dangerous, but so can skiing and people still go to extreme lengths and spend ludicrous amounts of money just to get a few hours of time knee-deep in freezing powder. Although many other motivations exist and should be explored in great detail, the recreational trip is literally a no-brainer. It can be summed up in the following question: "Dude, wanna get wasted?"
Yes, blowing your mind for fun is a time-honored tradition, and I don't pretend to make any assumptions or clever observations about it. Humans like having fun, psychedelics can be immense fun. What's more to know than that? While many other contexts may get wrapped into the recreational trip as a matter of consequence, seeking a higher meaning or motivation for the recreational trip is a silly question, for it is a silly exercise. But what I will say is that humans should be allowed to be silly once in a while without judgment or fear of prosecution, and nothing brings on silliness faster than a few doses of psychedelics distributed among the right people.
In truth, recreational tripping can be immensely transformative in many ways. If you actually do have fun and enjoy yourself, you may find a kind of clarity of contentment along the way, a peace of mind and feeling of well being that comes from knowing you are happy and thankful and living a full rewarding life. Like exercising, dancing all night, or having good sex, psychedelics can really energize the body, making it feel light and recharged. A good recreational trip is like a celebration of life, something that makes you feel young again, even childlike. The joy is a tonic that refreshes the mind and body in its own unique way. At the basest sense the recreational user is a pure hedonist, seeking only momentary pleasure in the little things of life, and I find it hard to find fault with this exercise unless it becomes all consuming in one's life.
Of course, many people who consider themselves to be recreational users may actually be pathological or self-destructive users who think they are having fun, but in reality are not having fun, and are using psychedelics as a means of avoidance or escape from dealing with bigger issues. I agree this happens, a lot. But this does not mean that there are no pure recreational users because there are, I know. A true hedonist develops his or her own complex rituals that maximize bliss and pleasure while minimizing negative side-effects and distractions. In a sense, the recreational trip can be viewed as either a decadent indulgence, a psychic rejuvenation therapy, or a targeted meditation on joy and bliss. Any way you frame it, it is safe to say that a little of this kind of medicine is probably okay and might actually be healthy from time to time, but to become overindulgent is certainly pathological, especially given that some psychedelics, like MDMA, are notorious for diminishing (or even negative) returns in bliss potential over time.
I have often heard it said that the high you get on psychedelics can only be matched by the lows you have when you finally come down from the experience, and that every phenomenal trip must be equally matched by a phenomenal "dark period" or "hangover" afterwards. While psychedelic hangovers are often reported, I think generally the notion of emotionally "bottoming out" after taking a psychedelic is overblown by popular media. It can happen, don't get me wrong, but just as often the emotional rebound from a psychedelic can be energizing and emotionally cleansing. I think this has to do with context, of course, and with the overall health and use patterns of the individual. It is no secret that the potency of most psychedelics diminishes markedly after frequent repeated use, and that a time interval of a few days to a few weeks is necessary for the body to "re-charge" again and be ready for the next full-blown trip. This has to do with a variety of factors, but the bottom line is that frequent recreational tripping eventually leads to a complete loss of psychedelic effect, after which more and more of the drug must be taken to have any effect, and even then the psychedelic retains only amphetamine-like effects with mild psychedelic edges.
It is safe to say that heavy chronic use of psychedelics is not a constructive exercise, and will most likely foreshadow the user's spiral into oblivion. However, going back to the notion of psychotic people taking psychedelics, if someone had a pre-existing psychosis, they could conceivably use frequent large doses of psychedelics to build up a tolerance to chemically induced psychotic states. This would in affect "burn out" or "down regulate" their body's capacity to produce a fully psychotic state without the presence of a massive amount of psychedelics. This is basically a form of radical homeopathic self medication, someone in effect saying, "Well, I'm crazy, but by tripping I can let my crazy out all at once so I can come back down and feel somewhat normal the rest of the time." In effect, this is just as valid as the mystic who wants to have a spiritual experience but just once a month or once a year, or the person who wants to go out dancing and get high and have fun, but just on Saturday nights.
Recreational use of psychedelics, spiritual use, and self-medicating use are probably all linked to the same motivators, though the context and outcome are all very different. But in each case there is a sense that the user needs to "recharge" or "let loose" or "reconnect" or do whatever it is they need to do to feel whole and sane and at peace again. The motivations for psychedelic use are not always this pure and easy to define, but in these cases they may very well be linked to a simple pharmacological cause and effect mechanism that we talked about in the opening of this chapter. Person A takes drug B in amount C because it fills X function. X function makes them happy, so person A does drug B again. Sometimes it really is that simple, but sometimes it is not.
At the Center of it All
The only other thing that I would like to point out is that any single trip may have one or more of the above primary motivators at its core. For example, an exploratory trip could turn into an entheogenic trip, or a social bonding trip could turn into an obsessive self-destructive trip, or vice versa. In reality the psychedelic state is unstable and fleeting, and may cross all these various boundaries within a single session. In short, the psychedelic can be integrated into and can amplify just about any human behavior you can think of, and can also spawn some unique behaviors of its very own. The motivations for ingesting the psychedelic are complex, and the things we expect from them are equally as complex. Each person has a slightly different need to be filled when they ingest a psychedelic, and each will react to the experience in their own unique way. In this sense, psychedelics are the magical catalysts to a wide range of potential outcomes, and their utility to this end should not be underestimated.
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Tags : psychedelic
Rating : Teen - Drugs
Posted on: 2005-02-10 00:00:00