Psychedelic drugs are a controversial topic, but despite decades of negative press, science suggests these plants may actually have psychiatric benefits worth exploring.
According to data from the National Institute of Mental Health, the prevalence of anxiety disorders in the U.S. may be as high as 40 million, or about 18 percent of the population over the age of 18, making it the most common mental illness in the nation.1,2 The conventional approach to anxiety and depression treatment typically involves antidepressants and other psychiatric drugs. Unfortunately, studies have repeatedly demonstrated antidepressants are no more effective than placebo. In the long term, they also produce changes in the brain that may actually worsen your condition. Psychedelics, such as psilocybin, also known as magic mushrooms, clearly have a mind-altering effect, but it’s quite different from conventional psychiatric drugs. While the scientific evidence is still slim (since their illegal status makes them difficult to study), two of the most recent studies on magic mushrooms found they had truly profound benefits for cancer patients struggling with anxiety and depression.
The featured film (see below), “The Reality of Truth,”3 explores how psychotropic drugs can enhance your understanding of reality, thereby freeing you up to be happy, regardless of outward circumstances. Deepak Chopra opens up the conversation noting that the human brain has specific receptors for psychoactive substances such as psilocybin, and the fact that we have them is a clear indication that we are part of their nature, and these plants are part of ours. In other words, psychotropic plants appear to have a role to play in the human experience. But what is that role? Psychotropic plants are well-known for their ability to induce dramatically altered states of consciousness. Many of these altered states correlate to religious or spiritual experiences, and such experiences, Chopra says, is part of being a whole human being. A common experience (although, by far, not the only possibility) is the experience of being “at one” with God or “the source of all creation” — a feeling of no longer being separate from anyone or anything, not just in our immediate surroundings but indeed the entire universe. As Chopra says, psychotropic drugs “help people break out of the hallucination of separation.” Many believe psychotropic plants have a rightful place in human life, as they can act as a key, if you will, to expanded levels of consciousness and a personal experience of the divine. By making them illegal, we’re effectively been barred from using natural substances to explore the spiritual dimensions of our being that can be tremendously healing and beneficial.
For clarity’s sake, let me state for the record that I am not advocating the use of illegal substances. Doing so may land you in prison, regardless of how pure your intentions. Psychotropic plants may be “all natural,” but they are also extremely potent mind-altering compounds that should not be experimented with willy nilly. Psilocybin, for example, is a Schedule 1 substance under the Controlled Substances Act.4,5 The mushrooms are typically ingested in their fresh or dried form, or can be made into tea. However, large doses have been known to induce panic and/or psychosis, which is why careless experimentation is strongly discouraged (in addition to their use being deemed “illegal”). My intention for posting this is for educational purposes only, to allow you to explore some different points of view. It is not an invitation or a recommendation to partake in illegal substances, for any reason. At present, the only legal way I know of to use psychedelics in the U.S. is to be part of a registered study. Other countries have different laws pertaining to psychedelics and their use.
The video starts out by exploring historical references to psychedelics and meditation, giving examples of celebrities who have embraced meditation as a way to improve their mental health, creativity and happiness. As noted in the video, most of us search for happiness outside ourselves. More often than not, it’s a fruitless search. At the end of the day, we realize that new car, the new romantic partner, the money in the bank, all failed to produce a lasting effect. The idea that true, lasting happiness can only be found inside yourself is an ancient one. You’d be hard-pressed to find a single philosopher throughout history who thought otherwise. But how do you get “inside?” Meditation is one of the oldest, most tried-and-true ways of reaching your own core. Changing our own state of mind is also thought to be the best, if not only, way to achieve lasting societal change.
The way to reduce war in the world is for each individual to be an agent of peace by being more peaceful. You can’t fake inner peace. You have to work at it. Similarly, the way to reduce environmental destruction is for each and every individual to act in less destructive ways; to become more environmentally conscious and make different choices in our day-to-day lives.
Transcendental Meditation (TM) is one of the most popular forms of meditation, practiced by millions of people around the world. You choose a mantra that has meaning for you, sit quietly with your eyes closed, and repeat your mantra for a period of about 20 minutes, once or twice a day. The idea is to reach a place of “restful” or “concentrated” alertness, which enables you to let negative thoughts and distractions pass by you without upsetting your calm and balance. Ultimately, TM is said to open you to universal consciousness, a transcendental state where all apparent divisions disappear, and you recognize yourself as being a part of everything. While this state of bliss is, well, blissful, the idea is not to remain there forever. Your aim is to return to normal waking life, and slowly, over time, integrate more and more of this transcendental nature into your waking state. Effects include a greater sense of peace, harmony and happiness — regardless of outer circumstances. It also improves emotional resilience, the ability to bounce back from stress, which has direct implications and benefits for physical health.
The film “The Reality Of Truth” (see below) explores what appears to be references to meditation and psychedelics in religious texts, and interviews a number of people who have experimented with these drugs about their experiences. By and large, people say the experience of “oneness” produced a radical shift in the way they view not only themselves but all of life going forward. The experience is life-altering and seemingly permanent. Indeed, the two studies I mentioned earlier concluded that this spiritual component was one of the determining factors that allowed patients to release their fear of death, and hence their anxiety and depression over their cancer diagnosis. In a Time magazine article, Dinah Bazer recounts her personal experience with psilocybin.6 A cancer survivor struggling with severe anxiety (driven by her fear of a recurrence), Bazer agreed to participate in a magic mushroom trial conducted at the NYU Langone Medical Center. While fear gripped her when the drug first brought her “tumbling through space,” the experience ended up being a profoundly healing one: “… I started to feel love. I felt like I was being bathed in love and it was overwhelming, amazing, wonderful … The feeling of immense love lingered for weeks, and four years later I still feel it at times. My fear and anxiety were completely removed, and they haven’t come back … “The experience changed how I wanted to live my life. I used to get up, grab a quick snack and eat it in the car. But I no longer want to be in a hurry. Now I get up an hour early, make a real breakfast and read my paper … I used to imagine what it would be like if the cancer recurred, but I don’t think about it the same way anymore. When I don’t feel well and thoughts of a recurrence creep into my mind, I lack fear and simply think, ‘Let’s just see what happens.”
Another cancer patient that took part in the NYU trial was Patrick Mettes, a television news director. His magic mushroom trip helped him make peace with and overcome his fear of death, his widow stated.7 “He was not afraid of death and, in fact, he seemed to grow through the process of dying. My brother was with us quite a bit during that time and says that he felt that Patrick’s spirit grew as his body declined … I believe it helped him, and both of us, live life fully up to the very end.” Addiction medicine specialist Dr. Drew Pinsky, who is interviewed in the film, admits the research very clearly demonstrates the benefits of psychedelic plant medicines in end-of-life care, for the fact that it very rapidly helps people come to peace with their own dying process. He also believes end-of-life care may be the area where we’ll eventually see psychedelic drugs be used. According to lead author Dr. Stephen Ross, director of substance abuse services and associate professor in the department of psychiatry at NYU Langone, their investigation revealed that psilocybin “was a rapid, immediately acting anti-anxiety and antidepressant.” The second psilocybin study was done at Johns Hopkins University. Fifty-one patients participated, randomly receiving either a high dose or very low dose of psilocybin. 8
“… [T]he high-dose psilocybin resulted in significant decreases in both clinician-rated and self-reported measures of depressed mood and anxiety among the patients. The effects lasted in 78 percent of patients for depression and 83 percent for anxiety in a follow-up assessment six months later.
‘These effects appear to be sustained in our study at least six or seven weeks and very plausibly more than six months,’ Roland Griffiths, a professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at Johns Hopkins Medicine and lead author of the study, said … ‘[I]t’s a very exciting opportunity to consider entirely new approaches to therapy.'”
Sherry Marcy, diagnosed and treated for cancer in 2010, described herself as “very depressed” when signing up for the Johns Hopkins study. After a single dose of magic mushrooms, “the cloud of doom seemed to just lift. From then on, I was fine,” she says. Many others had similar experiences.9,10,11,12,13 Regardless of one’s opinion about hallucinogens, it’s pretty remarkable to consider that a single dose of a substance can result in several months’ worth of relief. Certainly, it’s far safer than opioids that have already killed nearly a quarter million people in the U.S. alone. Some patients even report being anxiety-free four years later. Other research has confirmed that the effects of controlled psilocybin administration indeed appears to be long-lasting in a majority of cases.14
According to researchers, the freedom from anxiety and depression appears to be the result of spiritual reconnection. The feeling of love and being “one” with everything results in alterations in the brain itself — a mechanism ascribed to neuroplasticity, where your brain changes in accordance to experience. Indeed, a majority of the participants ranked it among “the most meaningful” experiences of their lives.
Psilocybin also binds to the same receptors as serotonin, a neurotransmitter involved in mood and perception. Studies using MRI imaging show psilocybin alters brain activity, allowing for communication between regions of your brain that normally do not connect. This is believed to be part of the breakthroughs people report. Aubrey Marcus, founder and CEO of Onnit, is one of the individuals interviewed in “The Reality of Truth” who admits using psychedelics as an aid in his explorations of “experiential spirituality” — a journey in which the plants have been his “greatest teachers.” Amazon John Easterling, a conservationist, compares the use of psychedelics to “10 years of therapy in seven hours,” because the experience really cuts to the core of your problem, whatever it might be.
This eye-opening documentary features Deepak Chopra, Michelle Rodriguez, Ram Dass, Marianne Williamson, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and many others. Watch as they share their perspectives and experiences with Ayahuasca, plant medicine and meditation…
Documentary host Mike “Zappy” Zapolin travels to Peru to get the psychedelic experience firsthand. Aside from magic mushrooms, there are a number of other plants and traditional brews with psychedelic effects. Ayahuasca, for example, is commonly used for spiritual exploration. As with magic mushrooms, ayahuasca users often have positive mental and emotional breakthroughs, brought on by the overwhelming depth of the spiritual experience. Ayahuasca is prepared from a mixture of ayahuasca vine bark and leaves from the cacruna plant. San Pedro or “huachama” is another ancestral medicine, made from the San Pedro cactus. The Andean people have used San Pedro for healing and religious divination for over 5,000 years. Under the guidance of a Peruvian San Pedro shaman, Zapolin and his co-explorers, who include actress Michelle Rodriguez, partake of both of these ritual beverages. Their shaman guide discusses these traditional plant medicines saying: “When you do the medicine [San Pedro], 50 percent of the medicine’s responsibility is to do all the healing, all the cleansing, all the awakening, all the clearing, all the harmonizing that it needs to do. But the other 50 percent — of taking it further, of taking it deeper, is always yours. Part of my work in this is to make the transition possible, from being very sleepy to being fully awake … “Each person has a pattern, and that pattern is 50 percent woven by the person and 50 percent by the divine. Ayahuasca is capable of changing that pattern. From being one person one day, the next day you’re completely another person.”
An example of this kind of 180-degree shift in personality and outlook on life is given in the film in the form of a firsthand account by Gerard Powell, who broke his addiction to smoking, alcohol and drugs with a single dose of psychedelics. Recounting his own ayahuasca trip, Zapolin says he suddenly realized he had died: “As I was looking at death, experiencing death, I saw how dynamic it was and how much was going on, and I realized that I never needed to fear death again. It was totally liberating. And, as I spent time in this ayahuasca experience, I realized I was sitting in a place where I could ask any question. “I could go into the future, into the past; whatever I wanted to know … I decided to ask, ‘Why do bad things happen?’ Immediately … I was whipped out into the edge of space … I was out there at the edge, looking at everything in the universe … and as I’m looking at it, spirit said to me, ‘You see that? It’s totally balanced. It’s perfect.'”
After his trip to Peru, Zapolin sought to practice transcendence on a daily basis. Along the way, he was introduced to sudarshan kriya yoga (SKY),15 a breathing technique taught by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. More than 65 studies have investigated the effects of this technique.16 Among the findings, studies have shown it can help:
Like other experts on breathing, Shankar notes that for every emotion, there’s a corresponding rhythm of breath. Since the two are linked, by regulating your breathing, you regulate your emotions. Practicing SKY, Zapolin discovered he could in fact enter into a psychedelic state simply using his breath.
In closing, I want to reiterate that I do not condone or recommend imbibing illegal drugs, be they “plant medicines” or not. Should you decide to experiment, make sure you do it in a place where it’s legal, and under the guidance of someone with the proper experience.
The most important point, I think, is that what these kinds of psychedelic experiences tell us is that spiritual connection is an important part of life, health and happiness.
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