So you’re thinking about trying psychedelics? It can be daunting to try to sift through all the information, hype, and stories and truly understand whether or not working with psychedelics is right for you. While psychedelics and entheogens are starting to make a comeback as science and medicine strive to catch up to what our ancestors have known for thousands of years, there is still a large gap in education, awareness, and understanding of who should use these medicines, what they can do, and why you might want to give it a go.
Psychoactive plants and compounds like ayahuasca, San Pedro, psilocybin, and LSD, DMT, Bufo (5-meoDMT) (just to name a few) can offer profound, transformational experiences and healing for everything from depression to addiction, but it can feel like there’s a lot of mystery around going from just being curious to taking the leap, finding a guide, or sitting in a ceremony, whatever that looks like for you.
Why Do People Use Psychedelics?
Psychedelics call to us for different reasons. Some of us want to expand our consciousness and deepen our connection to the Great Spirit, or make changes in our own lives to be better stewards of our world and our time in it. Others are seeking healing for physical diseases, emotional trauma, and mental health issues like depression, anxiety, or PTSD. And others find psychedelics through recreational means and often have accidental breakthroughs with life altering results. The main thing to keep in mind is that people often come to psychedelics looking for a miracle or an overnight cure. I say this all the time, but rarely does it work like that. Working with psychedelics is a long process that takes constant reflection, shadow work, determination, and resilience to get the most out of your journeys. It can open up a process that may last the rest of your life. It’s that powerful, and knowing how much work you may need to do after the fact is something that should be considered before beginning the process.
How Do You Know?
All of these are valid paths to begin or continue working with psychedelics, there’s no one path that’s better than another. Some people have a very strong inner knowing that the medicines are calling to them, and intuitively there is a pull in that direction. I started my journey with psychedelics more than 20 years ago, not knowing the deep power I had to use them with intention and also not knowing the lifelong relationship we were building. Even without intention, I got a lot of healing out of my journeys with mushrooms without even trying, and they also woke me up to the damage I was doing to myself with my alcohol addiction.
When it was time for me to make my way to working with ayahuasca and San Pedro, I knew exactly what I needed to heal and was ready and willing to engage in that process fully and fearlessly. My teachers had an ancestral system that really worked for me and resonated with me. Ayahuasca in particular seems to travel through people to call others to her. This path, what you’d call “being called” kind of becomes impossible to ignore. I’ve heard from others who had this experience that it was the same for them. I personally spent two years researching and trying to avoid it before it actually became impossible to ignore.
Some people who don’t consider themselves spiritual may think otherwise, but I would argue that all people working with psychedelics are called. I believe these tools find us and help us along the way, whether we are aware of it or not.
Are There Requirements?
There’s no specific threshold of illness, or criteria or amount of healing you need to have done to seek counsel with the plants. Curiosity and wonder are also good reasons. It’s largely a very personal and private choice that only you can make. Being educated, informed, and aware of the contraindications, risks, and benefits can help you make the best decision for yourself. And making sure you follow the guidelines and recommendations from your practitioner, healing center, and shaman will ensure you have the safest experience possible.
What Are the Risks?
So-called facts about all the negative things that can happen with psychedelics are largely based on unsubstantiated claims, or unscientific, anecdotal, impossible to prove stories. Oftentimes, when someone is reported to have experienced or done something terrible on LSD, it’s later found out that they took something else. Because psychedelics are illegal in most western countries, and traditional medicines are drunk in jungles and mountains without much scientific tracking, most of the things we know are subjective, but there are studies, and bad things do occasionally happen.
There’s a great article on Michael Pollan’s website by Bridget Huber that discusses what we know about the risks of psychedelics. I highly recommend reading her article if you want to get into some well researched details about the safety of psychedelics, but I’ll paraphrase here. Overall, psychedelics are one of the safest, most positive, least dangerous things you can do (FOR MOST PEOPLE), but there are risks, as with anything. There are certainly dozens of commercials on TV selling us legal prescription drugs with known side effects that can cause everything from suicidal ideation to sudden death.
If you’re considering doing an ayahuasca, psilocybin, San Pedro retreat, any center worth going to is going to have a screening process, medical guidelines, requirements, and possibly an interview before you are invited to come to a retreat. It is absolutely advisable to check with your doctor and/or therapist if you are considering working with psychedelics, and if they are not open or supportive, find someone who is (they exist!)
So Who Should Not Use Psychedelics?
There are some people who have conditions that make psychedelics very dangerous or even life threatening. People with diagnosed schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, or psychosis should not work with psychedelics. The reason is that psychedelics could induce alternate realities and altered states that might trigger psychotic episodes or delusions in people with these conditions, and that can put their lives at risk.
While some psychedelics are powerful tools for healing depression, anxiety, and PTSD, for some people these medicines can do more harm than good. Forcing an experience that may have damaging effects is not a good way to meet the medicines, and it may put you in a worse place with your issues and health. I fully believe that psychedelics are safe and valuable for most people, but some people should be extra, extra cautious, or seek alternative options for healing.
In order to sit with these medicines, you need to have a healthy heart, and the stamina and physical, mental, and emotional ability to handle the experience. Checking in with a doctor is a really good idea, even if you don’t share the reason why you are getting the check up. Making sure you’re in good shape to traverse the inner galaxy is a smart thing to do. Take care of your temple, prepare yourself, and do your research, and you can ensure that you have a safe healing journey.