“The most beautiful and profound emotion we can experience is the sensation of the mystical. It is the sower of all true science.”
– Albert Einstein –
Attempting to define or describe the psychedelic experience may appear counterintuitive to most psychonauts. Whether novice or experienced, the very nature of psychedelic medicine resides in its tendency to increase cognitive flexibility and open our minds to the infinite and diverse expressions of life and its very essence.
Let’s dive into the history of this groundbreaking, revolutionary tool that has reshaped our human existence and introduced a whole new pattern of perception into our reality.
The word PSYCHEDELIC means MIND-MANIFESTING.
Derived from the Greek for “mind-manifesting”, it was invented and used for the first time by Humphry Osmond, a British psychiatrist working in Canada and studying the correlation between hallucinogenic substances and the schizophrenic process in the 1950s.
In one of his letters to his friend and famous author Aldous Huxley (ie. The Doors of Perception), he wrote the following poem, naming the revolutionary substance that would change the course of history.
“To fathom hell or soar angelic
Just take a pinch of psychedelic”
– Humphry Osmond –
With simple words, Osmond managed to capture the wide spectrum of the psychedelic experience. Whether recreational or medicinal, sacred plant medicines take you on a journey to explore the totality of your being, and beyond. Each attempt is a leap of faith into the unknown, a glimpse into eternity. Whether you get the chance to experience pure unconditional love and a sense of belonging and unity, or dive deep into your core truth to face your shadows and fears, both are valid and precious opportunities to grow, heal, and expand beyond all limitations and outdated beliefs.
The most common testimonies regarding the psychedelic experience include:
- Transcendence of time and space as we know it
- A sense of unity with all living things, including ourselves
- A strong connection to nature
- A deep introspection, resulting to the understanding, resolution and healing of wounds, traumas and unhealthy patterns/habits
- The ability to understand, see and release fears
- A sense of deep compassion and love for oneself and all living things
- A greater capacity for forgiveness of self and others
- The sensation of seeing life exactly as it is – seeing truth
The arrival of psychedelics into Western society
Even though sacred plants medicine made their way into the Western world between the 40’s and 50’s, they have been around for thousands of years – being used, ingested and worshipped by Natives and indigenous tribes worldwide for healing, divination and strength building.
Just a few years after Albert Hoffman’s synthetisation of LSD, and his first discovery of its hallucinogenic properties on the infamous “Bicycle Day” on April 19th 1943, R Gordon Wasson, a successful businessman and Vice President of J.P. Morgan at the time, confirmed and anchored the existence and beneficial use of naturally occurring psychedelic substances into the Western world.
Inspired by his Russian’s wife interest in edible mushrooms, and a letter from a friend telling him about an ancient mushroom cult in Mexico, he decided to embark on a journey to South America and into the sacred plant medicine world, contributing to its official integration into modern society in the early 50’s.
Upon his return in 1957, he decided to share his discoveries and published an article in LIFE magazine “Seeking the Magic Mushrooms”, sparking interest in the brightest minds and intellectuals around the country.
Curious about its properties and potential military use, the CIA infiltrated Wasson’s research with the intention of making it a pharmaceutical drug and ultimate war weapon, considering it as a wealth and power increasing opportunity.
As their pharmaceutical team didn’t manage to isolate and identify which components made the so-called magic mushrooms hallucinogenic, they decided to contact Hoffman himself, and ask if he had been able to isolate the molecule responsible for their unique effects. Being the passionate naturophile he was, the Swiss scientist had of course identified it and was able to introduce Psilocybin, the active psychedelic component present in both LSD and magic mushrooms, which ended up being synthetized as a marketable drug, as the CIA had intended.
“I think it is very strange that LSD is not just a laboratory product. It is closely related to this old, Indian magic drug. That means that LSD belongs – pharmacologically, chemically – to the group of the sacred magic plants of Mexico. It’s a very important finding.”
– Albert Hoffman –
Psilocybin was then made available to all practitioners willing to research and explore the medicinal properties of the new found drug, becoming one of the most revolutionary tools within the psychological and psychiatric fields.
It started being incorporated in therapy sessions and achieved great success with patients suffering from mental illness, drug addiction, alcoholism, depression/anxiety disorders and patients in terminal cancer phases, inducing what was then called psycho-spiritual epiphanies, leading to new found enthusiasm for life, a sense of peace, and an ability to understand and grow beyond harmful behaviors.
Psilocybin was perceived as a window into the psychotic world and its symptoms, as well as an opportunity to get a deeper understanding of the nature of the schizophrenic process, and the biochemistry of psychosis. It was considered a psychotomimetic substance, based on Hoffman’s testimony about his first LSD experience and the psychotic-like state it induced, making it a Holy Grail of knowledge for all therapists alike.
Around that time, Timothy Leary, a prominent psychologist at Harvard University, was fascinated by these new discoveries and after reading the LIFE article, decided to travel to Mexico with a colleague who was able to introduce him to a Curandero in possession of magic mushrooms. He then stated:
“I learned more about psychology in the five hours after taking these mushrooms than in the preceding 15 years of studying and doing research in psychology.”
– Timothy Leary –
Upon his return and full of excitement for the possible advancements in the psychological and psychiatric fields, he was granted permission to do research on Psilocybin, and launched The Good Friday Study with Walter Pahnke.
The project consisted in administering Psilocybin and placebos to 20 theology students to observe and compare their experiences to genuine mystical experiences gathered in mystics and saints’ testimonies throughout time.
8 of the 9 students who had a mystical experience had taken Psilocybin, confirming its ability to induce an enlightened-like state, and its correlation with testimonies found in history.
Mysticism is defined as being the direct experience of the divine and what seems to be the true essence of life.
The groundbreaking difference here, mirroring the culture shock experienced by the Conquistadors when they first got exposed to native rituals upon their arrival in the Americas, is that sacred plant medicine and psychedelics give this experience of the divine directly to the people, instead of the usual religious heritage claiming that only official, male religious figures had the ability and right to access this knowledge and state of consciousness.
This is the power and uniqueness of Psilocybin, which also makes it a constant threat to the status quo.
It didn’t come as a surprise then that by the time LSD and Psilocybin started to leak out of laboratories – leading to the psychedelic explosion of the 60’s – their inherent subversive nature got considered and portrayed as a threat to society, leading to its establishment as a Schedule 1 drug under Nixon, and its almost instant disappearance from society’s daily life.
Over the years, there have been several attempts to reinstate the validity of psychedelic medicine in the research and advancement of psychological and psychiatric treatments.
Reconsidering the medicinal use of psychedelics in modern society
In 1990, Rick Strassman, an American clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine, was able to relaunch a similar, government-funded study with DMT this time, claiming to suspect a link between the molecule and its potential responsibility in causing schizophrenic states in patients.
The study offered yet again promising results with terminally ill patients, alleviating their anxiety, resolving life long issues and traumas, as well as assisting them in facing and releasing their fears relating to death and end of life crisis.
Nowadays, more and more centers and medical facilities around the world are granted permission to study and incorporate alternative medicines into their patients’ treatments. Major advancements are being noted everyday with substances such as MDMA, LSD or Psilocybin mushrooms in the treatment of PTSD, depression, generalized anxiety disorders and more.
We at The Psychedelic Society, look forward to the decriminalization of all sacred plant medicines, in hope of bringing more hope, healing and joy into the lives of all beings.
A word on the importance of context, preparation, guidance and interpretation
It is a fact that even in Native tradition, preparation is a major factor in the healthy and safe experience and integration of a psychedelic journey. Maria Sabina, the Curandera who introduced Wasson to sacred mushrooms in Mexico, said it herself: One should only ingest sacred plant medicine when they are properly prepared and ready, otherwise, they expose themselves to unnecessary risks. This statement, being based on thousands of years of first-hand experience, combined with our own expertise on the subject as well as hundreds of testimonies of patients confirming the necessity of guidance and reassuring setting in the positive outcome of their own psychedelic journeys and integration, encourage us to reinforce the idea that preparation, whether physical or mental, is an essential step in approaching the realm of psychedelic medicines.
At The Psychedelic Society, we are happy and honored to offer a Psychedelic Experience Preparation service, and are available to answer any questions you may have.
“Why… Why… Why not ?”
– Timothy Leary’s last words –
By Myriam Heith