The Darkside of Psychedelics

With the psychedelic revolution upon us it is easy to get caught up in the wonders of this ancient miracle. Every day, we hear more personal stories of healing through altered states. Even the news outlets are picking up on the psychedelic research for microdosing, mushrooms for PTSD, and the phase 3 clinical MDMA trials. And while certainly, the dangers of psychedelics touted during ‘The War on Drugs’ was more myth and hysteria than fact, there are plenty of real life pitfalls.


Here are a few things to consider while contemplating psychedelic journeying:


Acculturation:

Most people have a mental picture of a shaman that they could easily bring to mind. Unfortunately, this is due in part to cinematic depictions and their acculturation of indigenous medicinal practices. When we take up a rattle and chant, is it coming from an authentic desire to express ourselves in this way? Or are we merely acting as a caricature of the way we think things are supposed to happen? Mimicking behaviors without understanding the purpose or receiving permission to use the rituals only serves to oppress already marginalized indigenous communities.


Addiction:

Mainstream psychedelic culture often has a blindspot to the addictive possibilities of Entheogenic substances. Not only is it problematic because it creates biases about types of substance use(known as psychedelic exceptionalism), it can also lead to a false sense of safety about using psychedelic substances. Most people consider medical withdrawal to be what determines how addictive a substance is. Psychedelic use doesn’t lead to classic physical dependency. However, even plant-based substances can create a nuero-chemical addiction. Each substance has a unique, well-documented chemical property that can result in everything from decreased dopamine production, higher risk for seizures, to habit based addiction (sometimes polydrug addiction).

Ecology: Like every consumptive behavior on planet earth, Psychedelics leave an ecological footprint. Psychedelic substances are produced from natural and chemical processes, or a combination of both. Naturally occurring substances that come from roots and bark require harvesting the entire wild plant in order to gain the phytochemicals. This can ruin an ecological habitat or decimate the wild population as historically seen with plants like goldenseal. Substances like 5-MeO-DMT are produced by a frog and open the question of animal cruelty and sustainality around their habitats. Even if you stick to using synthesized psychedelics there is an ecological cost not accounted for in laboratory precursors chemicals and originating materials. Illegal labs may also be set up in a fly-by-night fashion and chemicals may be disposed of in public water systems or dumped on the ground.


Psychological Damage:

While the statistical risk of having a psychotic break is low compared to the inherent benefits of using Psychedelics, they still pose a risk to vulnerable populations. Psychedelics taken in any setting can increase anxiety, create new trauma, and even potentiate schizophrenia. Consider seeking facilitators with experience in medicinal Psychedelics, it will help to please your fears and provide a safety net.

Rebound depression/Biochemical imbalance:

Most psychedelic substances work on the dopamine and serotonin systems. These systems are key in producing neural-chemical happiness. Pharmaceutical substances such as MDMA and Ketamine can produce a post-trip come down in as little as one use. Similarly, substances like LSD and Psilocybin act on the 5-HT receptors that manage your serotonin system. Many people are tempted into semi-habitual use of enthoegens while spiritual bypassing. This continual usage of substances can alter the homeostasis of the brain leading to rebound depression and can cause serotonin syndrome.


Spiritual bypassing:

As psychedelic states become more mainstream, there are more examples of the healing principles being used to sidestep actual emotional maturation. This can happen with any practice when the ritual is given more importance than the work the ritual represents. Using substances to deal with personal problems, rather than directly dealing with fear and insecurities, is nothing new. This escapism is often described as the habitual avoidance of emotional work disguised by the rhetoric of a spiritual practice. Here are some signs it’s time to slow down on partaking in altered states and focus on integration.


Predators:

From yoga to religion, spiritual awakening movements seem to be a magnet for manipulators of all varieties. Unfortunately, even these safe spaces have been infiltrated by conmen and abusers. There seems to be no end of humans looking to make money off the unsuspecting people seeking substances on the black market. If you are not over charged for an entheogen (or ripped off entirely), then it may be adulterated with unknown chemicals if it’s true identity is known. (see webinar on drug checking). Even when the substance is real, the revolution is attracting would-be cult leaders and sexual predators. Be careful around anyone claiming to be a guru or leading ceremonies costing large amounts of money. Here are some considerations for assessing safety in community groups.


Drug Sigmas & Racial Inequality:

Psychedelic use can further polarize and perpetuate drug stigmas against people who use opiates, cocaine, and even cannabis. Separating out entheogen use from other substance use serves to reinforce the harmful stereotypes about “street drugs” perpetuated by the war on drugs. It’s important to recognize that BIPOC community members are subject to higher fines and sentences than their white counterparts. Traditionally, psychedelic communities have been full of racial disparity and not been a safe space for BIPOC community members to be seen and heard. Modern psychedelic communities have long been white, male dominated spaces. Having the attitude of a colonial, capitalist-mindset will not serve the psychedelic revolution.


Legal Issues:

Mind altering substances have come a long way in the past two decades but they are still illegal in the majority of the USA. Even if something has been decriminalized, that doesn’t mean it is suddenly legal to sell or purchase. While, it's not likely that one small dose of an entheogen will land you in prison please take precautions. They are still illegal and being caught with them can result in hefty fines and a ruined public image if not jail time.



Financial Access:

Unfortunately, the black market is a risky place to buy psychedelic medicines. There is always a hefty markup in cost due to the illegal nature of the purchase. Some people will even pay a months worth of rent money for a substance that is not the therapeutic entheogen desired. Even high ticket weekend retreats can promise more than the thousand dollar price tag can deliver leaving an empty bank account without significant improvements in symptoms.


This list of issues is not to deter anyone from seeking psychedelics for healing, only to consider the impact and risks they can have on ourselves and the world around us. Transposing the consumptive Disneyland attitudes of our society on the psychedelics will not save us, only serve to harm the planet and increase the inequality gap.


It is easy to get swept up in the hope and positivity of the renaissance of entheogens. It’s well known in fantasy fiction that all magic has a price. As the research grows, it’s important to not ignore the Darkside of chemical magic. One man’s cure can be another man's poison. Let's move forward in a way that honors the traditions, culture and sustainability of these entheogenic plants and substances while creating a more inclusive space for everyone?



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