A Pserenade to Psilocybin

A Pserenade to Psilocybin

In my humble opinion, the ‘magic’ mushroom – for that’s what it is – used in the right way, is one of the more remarkable tools for psychological wellbeing available to the human race. And yes I am well aware that to many people this statement will seem ridiculous, preposterous or even irresponsible. Indeed to some this is a radical proposition, but I would suggest it only appears like this because of the way the cultural paradigm of our time has led us to be ignorant of the value of non-ordinary states of awareness.

Allow me to explain. Ingesting psilocybin – the psychoactive compound found around the world in magic mushrooms – in the right settling, with the right people, with the right intention, offers a uniquely psychotherapeutic experience. It offers the chance to gain insight and understanding, to let go of the experience of suffering, to connect profoundly with nature, to psychologically cleanse and refresh ourselves, and to marvel at the wonderous universe we inhabit. This is not hyperbole by the way.

Of course some people in different parts of the world have known this for hundreds or even thousands of years, but it’s only now that through scientific research – currenty the only means by which anything useful can hope to be taken seriously by culture at large, institutions and policy makers – the therapeutic efficacy of the magic mushroom is starting to be demonstrated in a way that could eventually lead to a new era in treating depression and increasing wellbeing.

Thanks to a new wave of psychedelic research in recent years, the therapeutic potential of psilocybin is starting to be recognised. London based Prof. David Nutt and Robin Carhart-Harris have conducted studies that lead them to believe that psilocybin could be useful for the treatment of depression; studies at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore have recorded an improvement in the mental wellbeing of research participants who ingested psilocybin; at Harbor-U.C.L.A. Medical Center, Los Angeles, terminally ill patients who used psilocybin as part of their psychological treatment programme reported a decrease in their fear of death and were better able to come to terms with their situation.

Psilocybin is not the only psychedelic substance that offers such therapeutic benefits, but in comparison with it’s more forthright cousin, D.M.T. (being increasingly used around the world, particularly in the form of the amazonian brew ayahuasca), it offers a much more gentle and accessible experience. Psilocybin affords many of the increasingly well documented effects of the psychedelics, with less of the anxiety and physical symptoms, and a generally less challenging experience overall. For this reason it perhaps offers the most potential for use as a tool to improve wellbeing on a larger scale.

As well as this, use of psilocybin can invoke profound mystical states of awareness and can be used as a tool for deepening spiritual practice. In combination with a regular meditation practice the use of psilocybin can assist in prolonging elevated states of mind and may reinforce mindful ways of thinking. Users of psilocybin report discovering deeper layers of themselves, and often discover that life is more meaningful than before. Great value is experienced in connecting with a state that seems more ‘real’ than that of ordinary awareness. Wisdom teachings regarding how best to live one’s life may be received, or understood more profoundly.

It sounds almost too good to be true, but recent research is starting to provide the evidence to support such claims. Even mainstream news platforms reported a recent study by Johns Hopkins University that suggested that ingesting psilocybin just once resulted in profound positive changes in personality which could still be felt a year later. Of course in cultures such as ours that do not value elevated and profound states of grace and awareness, this mode of experiencing the world and enhancing our relationship with life may not catch on anytime soon. But a new appreciation of the therapeutic value of psilocybin could plant the seed for a change in the public and political perception of the value of non-ordinary states of consciousness.

Of course the issues of personal wellbeing and mental health are complex and interconnected with wider issues that need addressing within our societies. But I know from personal experience how valuable the use of psychedelics can be, both to those who suffer as well as those who wish to thrive. The types of insights and psychological change that psilocybin and other psychedelics bestow upon the user are such that there could hardly be a more appropriate or powerful tool for initiating the changes we’d all like to see, both in ourselves and consequently in our world. It’s sad that people who choose to utilise such effective and therapeutic tools for the betterment of themselves must commit a criminal act to do so, but with time I’m hopeful that further demonstration of the benefits of such activity will see a change in our attitudes towards it.

Ayahuasca, Healing, and the Freedom to Choose

(This article originally appeared on the website www.knowdrugs.net)

So I’m lying on my back on a foam mattress and it doesn’t matter whether my eyes are open or closed – I can’t see what’s around me for the intensity of the visions is overwhelming. Extraordinary colours, patterns and shapes appear before me, endlessly morphing and perpetually renewing. As well as witnessing this numinous light show, what seems like profound knowledge is being imparted to me. I’m being taught deep truths about how to live a better life; I’m reliving and letting go of the pain associated with distant memories; I’m empathically experiencing the pain of others throughout history and in different parts of the world and learning the importance of compassion. In the following days and weeks I feel lighter, more optimistic about life, more energetic, and the sadness I used to experience is no longer there. Something quite remarkable has happened.

I’ve been drinking the Amazonian brew ayahuasca and it’s a good job it was in Peru because if this was taking place where I live – in the UK – it would be considered criminal activity and the facilitators of the ceremony could face serious class A drug offences. The ingredient for which ayahuasca is an illegal ‘drug’ is Dimethyltryptamine, – also known as DMT – a naturally occurring compound which is produced by the human body and by many plants and animals. In Peru they prefer to think of ayahuasca as a ‘medicine’, a renowned healer of innumerable psychological, emotional, spiritual and physical problems. I’m certainly not the only person to benefit in this way – countless people testify to the healing properties of ayahuasca and other plant medicines, or substances and methods that utilise altered states of consciousness. A growing research base is slowly documenting their ability to considerably help with problems such as addiction, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and more. However, the case remains that in most countries outside of the Amazon people who wish to use this powerful therapeutic tool must do so in secrecy and face the possibility of spending time in jail. Just recently in England Peter Aziz was sentenced to 15 months in prison for holding Ayahuasca ceremonies.

Having experienced the profound benefits that Ayahuasca can potentially gift to those who drink it, it saddens me that something with such capacity for therapeutic value is placed beyond the reach of those who could benefit from it due to it’s legal status. It seems that whether through ideology or ignorance, or a combination of the two, Ayahuasca and similar substances continue to be thought of as odd, dangerous chemicals that should be avoided. Due to the fact that the predominant ideological paradigm in our culture denies that altered states of consciousness could possibly do any good for anything at all this is perhaps no surprise.

Of course, one must treat such powerful tools with respect, and the setting and way in which they should be used is critically important. Participants might also need support during the time that they are integrating their experiences. And ayahuasca and other altered state-inducing substances are certainly not for the faint hearted – though sometimes blissful they can also invoke a tough, frightening ordeal which can take the user to psychologically challenging places. All this plays a role in the healing process. But as commentators such Graham Hancock have explained, sovereignty over one’s own consciousness should not be withheld, and for the benefit of millions of people around the world who suffer from debilitating psychological problems such as addiction, depression and anxiety, it’s time to consider whether instead of being outlawed, these plant medicines should in fact be utilised.

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