Editor’s note: This blog refers to a podcast that covers the topic of psychedelic drug use, which is illegal in many parts of the world. Neither I nor my organization endorses illegal activity of any kind. Please follow the laws in your country regarding the use of controlled substances. In addition, this discussion should by no means be seen as a medical endorsement of the use of psychedelic drugs. I am not an MD and cannot give individual advice; we encourage each person to make the decision that seems best for their situation with the guidance of a medical professional and in accordance with local laws.
I am sure by now many of you have heard of best-selling author and journalist Michael Pollan’s book How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence. As unusual as it may seem to some people, this book is not a one-off foray into the world of psychedelic drugs; rather, it reflects a growing body of evidence and research on psychedelics and their potential to help improve our mental and physical wellbeing. In this week’s blog and podcast, I speak with Paul Austin, founder of Third Wave (a company that focuses on providing resources for safe, structured, and responsible psychedelic use), about the relationship between psychedelics and mental health, the different types of psychedelics and what they can be used for, how psychedelics can help overcome trauma and addiction, and how the responsible use of psychedelics can help us become more integrated mentally and physically and connected to the world around us.
First up, it is important to clarify that this information is intended for educational purposes only. I understand that in many areas of the world the use of different kinds of psychedelics are prohibited or illegal; as a company, we do not promote illegal activity. I do, however, believe that it is important to have this conversation, and think of ways we can help everyone improve their mental health and find satisfaction and purpose. This is why I strongly believe we need to reduce the stigma around talking about psychedelics and researching safe and responsible ways we can use them to help people manage their minds and live their best lives.
It is also important to recognize that psychedelics are not just a new fad or “woke” trend. They have played an important role throughout human history, and have great potential to help many people in our world today. How? As Paul notes, using psychedelics in a safe and responsible way can help us overcome our fears and worries and reach a peak experience where our ego drops away. In this state of mind, we can realize that the many things we face, including our own mortality, are not to be feared or avoided, which can give us a whole new perspective on life. The clouds part and we see the peak of the mountain—we see through the veil and feel more connected to the world around us, recognizing that we have agency and power to change. We begin to understand how we are a part of something beautiful, something we can tap into and use to make the world a better place for everyone.
Third Wave sees psychedelics as a way to treat whole person. The word psychedelic literally means “mind-manifesting”: it can manifest what is in our minds (the conscious, nonconscious and subconscious mind), helping us break negative thought patterns and trauma and find an opening for true change to take place. This is an act of catharsis, shining a light into the shadow parts of our minds and revealing the emotions, memories and stories that are influencing our thinking, communication and behavior. It helps bring all this into the light so we can deal with and heal our past through therapy, meditation, yoga, breathing, mindfulness and so on. Hence, for many people, taking a psychedelic is like 10 years of therapy in a single experience!
This does not, however, mean that psychedelics are the next “magic pill”. In a therapeutic/safe/sacred environment, Paul describes how these substances can help make an opening in your mental space, a place where you can start processing your thoughts and memories and doing the work of changing them. The responsible use of psychedelics essentially open a window of neuroplasticity in the mind, making it easier for you to reconceptualize past thoughts and make long-term lifestyle changes. When you use psychedelics, there is so much that can come up, so it is critical that you make sure the setting is safe and understand the importance of the integration process: the 70-90% of mind work that comes after the psychedelic experience. Psychedelics are just the catalyst that opens the door—the most important is what you do afterwards!
Because they can reveal so much, you should never just jump straight in and start using psychedelics haphazardly. It can be a messy process, as Paul points out, so it is always good to “start slow and go low” and begin with a guide, mentor or therapist—you don’t want to leave another trauma in the wake of the experience. Remember, like most things in life, this is a process, so have patience—psychedelics are not a quick-fix. This is why Third Wave focuses on all three parts of the psychedelic experience at their guided synthesis retreats in Europe:
- The preparation. Before any kind of psychedelic experience, it is important to prepare your mind and set your intentions. You need to examine your thoughts, thinking and journaling about what you want to examine, explore and change. Psychedelics are non-specific amplifiers, so this preparation/priming process is important. When you focus your attention and intentions, psychedelics can act a microscope and provide insight into that area of your thinking.
- The experience. The three most important aspects of a psychedelic experience are the container (where you are), the substance and the guide. The most important thing is that you feel safe, so that you can surrender to the experience and examine your internal life. You don’t want resistance from the ego to negatively affect the experience, which is why a professional guide, therapist or sitter is helpful, as they can support you and help you navigate and process the intensity of the experience appropriately.
- The integration process. This part of the process focuses on how you can integrate the insights you gain during the psychedelic experience into your life to make your life more balanced and whole. This is where the real work begins, the 70-90% mentioned above, where you can work on shifting your mindset and changing your thinking and behavior—where you can start learning how to face and process your thoughts and emotions. It helps you stay grounded and adaptable, helping you make real changes in your life.
Paul also describes how safe and responsible microdosing can help integrate this kind of psychedelic experience in your life. If a high dose of psychedelics is the catalyst/opening, then microdosing can help keep the window of neuroplasticity open in your mind so you can continue to do the mind work necessary for true and lasting change. This is another way to cultivate wellness, health and stability in all areas of your life.
It is also important to realize that there are different kinds of psychedelics (plants and molecules), which have different effects on the mind and body. Research has shown that MDMA, for example, is an ideal tool for dealing with trauma because helps quiet the amygdala and flight/fight response, which allows us to better recall traumatic experiences so that we can face and deal with them. It provides an opening so that we can talk about what happened, but in a way that is a heart-opening, empathetic experience—it is a gentle awakening, and thus a good psychedelic to begin with in a safe environment. Psilocybin or LSD opens our minds up more deeply, helping us became more aware of our shadow side and shining a light into the darkest places of ourselves. This experience can help us begin to understand the “stuff” that makes us human—the parts of ourselves that need compassion and love. This can be difficult but beautiful, taking us into states that are beyond our normal conscious experience and helping us achieve a spiritual awakening and connect to a higher source of being. Plant psychedelics like San Pedro and Ayahuasca help us experience the highest source of connectivity and opening, and should, ideally, only be experienced after many years of safe and responsible psychedelic use.
The great thing about psychedelics is that they are not addictive. In fact, many psychedelics are being used to treat addiction. Unlike many other drugs, psychedelics bind to the receptors in the brain related to adaptability and meaning. They help bring things to light, the root of our addictions, and help us integrate and change our thinking and behaviors. They open up our core thoughts and feelings so we can begin to process and heal them, giving us agency and showing us that we can change and make something of our existence!
The potential for psychedelics in the field of mental health is exciting to say the least, and definitely something we should be talking about and researching more. Studies have even shown that certain psychedelics work all the way down to the epigenetic level, and can help us process and deal with generational trauma that is passed through genes, changing cortisol levels, telomere length and so on, which, in turn, impacts our mental and physical health, and our longevity. Rather than shutting down the conversation with limited notions of drugs and psychoactive substances, we should be willing to explore, ask questions and change our thinking, because this is the substance and essence of life!
For more information on psychedelics, the power of reconceptualization and mental health, listen to my podcast with Paul (episode #178) and check out his company’s website. For more information on the research being done on psychedelics and mental health, see MAPS.
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1:57 What is Third Wave?
8:49 What are psychedelics?
20:00 Why what comes after the psychedelic experience is so important
23:40 How do psychedelics compare to other forms of therapy?
28:46 The 3 main elements of a healthy psychedelic experience
34:18 The power of microdosing
38:50 The different types of psychedelics and how they can help with mental health
50:00 Are psychedelics addictive?
1:00:20 Epigenetics and psychedelics
1:09:38 Is ketamine safe?
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