Psychedelic Sacraments: A Magic Bullet?

With the proliferation of research studies, along with media coverage, indicating the effectiveness of psychedelics like LSD, MDMA, Iboga, ayahuasca and Psilocybin to treat a wide variety of psychological challenges such as depression, end of life anxiety, relationship challenges, etc. there’s a burgeoning public interest in these substances. Then along comes Michael Pollan’s best-selling book, How to Change Your Mind, which takes an open-minded, skeptic’s view of these psychedelics as medicine (and comes out favourably disposed),  and an increasing number of people are starting to consider these once-feared substances as the answer to their problems.

Which, in my opinion, is great. They are powerful and they are more effective, when taken in the right set and setting, than traditional pharmacological solutions—without the debilitating side effects. But anybody who has read my book, Dismantled, which tracks my own healing journey with ayahuasca, MDMA and LSD, will know that if you’re looking for a quick fix, look elsewhere. The healing journey is exactly that, a journey—not a quick fix.

With the growing popularity and rediscovered optimism of psychedelics as healing medicines it is perhaps an opportune moment to moderate expectations. In his book, Cure or Heal, psychiatrist, E. Graham Howe distinguishes “curing” and “healing”. In our hi-efficiency, techno-driven rush to serve the capitalist agenda, we are looking for the cure. We want it, and we want it NOW!

It is the element of time itself, that is, our desire to eliminate it—our impatience with time—that characterizes 21st century culture’s fetish with the cure.  We want to return from whence we came, to the timeless realm of the eternal where there is no suffering. This desire to by-pass our suffering, rather than face it, learn from it, and glean a blessing, as did Jacob when he wrestled with the angel on the bank of the river Jabbok, means that we will continue to cure symptoms, but miss the opportunity for deeper healing. This mindset fuels Big Pharma’s promises to us, speaking directly to our impatience with time. But time, let’s remember, is the great healer. Time + Acceptance (Suffering) + Insight + Loving Relationship (These elements by the way issue in compassion for ourselves and the human condition and compassion is ultimately the premiere sign of healing). And remember, Jacob came away from his encounter with the angel with a permanent limp. He was healed, but limping around for the rest of his life.

The upshot is that psychedelic medicine is not a quick fix. It is not the magic bullet. The reason is simple but elusive. Our hearts were broken in relationship, and they will only be healed in relationship. These medicines open us up to the early heart-break, the trauma that turned us into mere survivors and stole our birthright as radiant, beautiful beings. They can give us a glimpse of heaven, but then it’s always back down to earth, back into our bodies, and back into intimate relationship, with self, others, and the world. Here is where we need to learn to trust again, after the devastation. Here is where we need to open our hearts again, and learn that the worst that can happen to us, has already happened—we just didn’t know. This healing of relationship, which consists of learning to relax in the presence of an other and believe that they are for us, (not against, and not indifferent), takes…you guessed it, time, time to examine all the ways we learned to distrust the “other”.

Psychedelic plant medicines have been used for thousands of years by indigenous peoples. Now we can add to these sacramental plants, modern day synthetics like LSD, 5 MEO DMT, and MDMA, all of which can be used effectively to heal our trauma, put us in touch with the Great Mystery that is living us, and and help to evolve our species. They need to be embraced, legalized, and used sacramentally and with great respect. They hold great promise, but at best they set us up for the great healing which is gaining the capacity to come back into intimate relationship with our loved ones, friends, and with our natural world.

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