Happy New Year: Drugs that can help

Happy New Year! I’m sure we’re all hoping that this year brings renewed optimism, through the creative, caring, and sensible use of all that’s available in this era of rapid change. In that spirit, I discuss my thoughts about “good drugs” and share my recent experience of DMT.

My twin boys are now thirteen, so they are approaching the age at which they’re likely to be exposed to drugs of all sorts. Like most parents, Isabel and I are concerned. We’re trying to find the right preparation and the right logic to steer them away from drug experiences that will likely be harmful. What can we say that provides guidance, not prohibition? Should we try to persuade the boys to avoid all drugs? Not a very useful strategy, says Carl Hart, and I agree. Not only would they probably dismiss our counsel and ignore our views on drugs completely — after all, we’d simply be displaying our biases. But on this point I follow Sam Harris. Somewhere in his book, Waking Up — A Guide to Spirituality without Religion, he says something like this: (don’t quote me — this is from memory) I hope my kids will never tell me they’ve experimented with meth or heroin. But I also hope they won’t tell me that they’ve avoided the psychedelics with equal fervor. I like Sam Harris. I like his approach to mindfulness, consciousness, and living with awareness. I’ve also just begun his guided meditation app. I highly recommend it.

There are so many kinds of drugs we could talk about with our kids, and the legal system provides almost no help when it comes to sorting them according to potential risk. After all, alcohol and tobacco are the most hazardous of substances, statistically, and they’re both legal. My intuition is to divide non-medical (“recreational”?) drugs into three categories:

  1. Those you should never ever touch: methamphetamine, heroin, crack cocaine. Besides the risk of overdose with heroin and psychosis or stroke with psychostimulants, all three drugs are highly addictive. I want to scare my kids appropriately, using my own past experiences for all they’re worth.
  2. Those you’d be best to avoid but probably won’t harm you if you explore cautiously, use occasionally, and learn about the risks: nonaddictive party drugs like ecstasy (MDMA) and ketamine.
  3. Those that really are okay if used appropriately: including alcohol, an aspect of human social rituals for roughly ten thousand years…but more interestingly, the psychedelics. If you are not vulnerable to psychosis or other severe mental health issues, then psychedelics can be beneficial in the pursuit of self-actualization or just exploring unique aspects of mind, consciousness, and reality. Of course, tread cautiously. Don’t go into these waters without guidance, companionship, and some degree of knowledge. But these drug experiences are among the adventures available to our age.

The psychedelics were epitomized by LSD in my generation. Psilocybin (magic mushrooms) and mescaline were also quite common. For young people in the current era, psilocybin is still frequently used. More recent additions include ayahuasca and other forms of DMT. These DMT compounds might be most attractive (and challenging!) to today’s intrepid psychonaut. And by the way, psychonaut is a real word; it refers to the exploration of altered states, including but not limited to “mind-altering” drugs.

There’s much to say about the ritualistic use of DMT by aboriginal cultures, the shamanic element, the social contexts considered helpful and supportive, and the limited research conducted so far. This Wikipedia page is a good start. It’s also important to note that psilocybin and MDMA are now being used by licensed psychiatrists to help their patients overcome anxiety, depression, addiction, and other unfortunate habits of mind (see Michael Pollan).

But you can read all this on the net. Let me tell you about my own recent experience.

I wrote about my first ayahuasca trip in this blog a few years ago. After five or six ceremonies, I decided that’s enough. The insights were profound, the hallucinations penetrating and beautiful, but running to the toilet every half-hour got old.

More recently, I heard an intriguing description of a trip with The Toad. Bufo Alvarius secretes a substance (5-MeO-DMT) that is dried and then smoked in a glass pipe. The toad is not killed but respectfully released after its DMT is collected. The trip is supposed to be rapid (5-25 minutes) and intense. Efficient, right? So I joined a friend in the UK for my introduction. We had a shaman usher us into this strange world, a short, tough-talking Brit from northern England who’d spent a prolonged period in the Sonoran Desert learning about Bufo from the natives who used it. John was a no-nonsense guy radiating expertise as well as compassion. His Tibetan bowls, drums, and feathers were ready to accompany us into, through, and out of the hallucinatory state.

We met in a church hall, chilly and unadorned. But it was enough. John and his helper arranged two padded bed-rolls which you sat against at first and then lay back on when the DMT hit your nervous system. I’d been feeling afraid of this moment for days. My friend spoke about “ego death” — leaving your personality behind, essentially dying as an individual and becoming connected with the rest of the universe intimately but without control. Sure, I was scared. “Ego death” has the word “death” in it.

For some reason, my fear disappeared the day of the event. I felt ready. By mutual consent, I went first. I was doused in tobacco smoke (an American native ritual) and cleansed of badness with the swoosh of a feather. I sat on the bed-roll. John ordered me to exhale completely, then held the stem of a glass pipe to my lips and lit it from below. Inhale, he said. More, more, keep going! And I did, until it felt like my lungs would burst. And then the room began to dissolve before my eyes. All of its features simply faded to colourful outlines and then…nothing at all. Strong hands helped me to lie back. Close your eyes now — I could still hear his voice. But I wasn’t in the room anymore.

Where was I? Of course it’s nearly impossible to describe. Something like a limitless pink space full of fluctuating colours and…feelings. It was a space of pure emotion. I felt great joy, gratitude that the universe would welcome me so easily. “Marc” meant nothing anymore, but I could still record my experience consciously. And right in the middle of all that joy there was a sort of black hole, called “anguish.” It held the greatest depths of despair, and I recognized a direct trajectory that’s extended through my life, from childhood to the present. The message, if I can call it that, was simple: this is the part of my experience that I thought I could not bear, that has always terrified me. Yet here it is, and it’s just…a feeling. Just loss. This truth seemed incredibly important, and when I came back to the room, smiling up at my companions, groggy and googly-eyed, it was still with me, undiminished.

I don’t want to get into deep speculation as to what I learned from Bufo. But I’m grateful for the awareness it lent me. For weeks I began my day with a simple sense of acceptance. It seemed that nothing in my emotional space needed to be  hidden, or deleted, or modified. It seemed (and often still does) that my sense of reality has no preordained limits, and there is something that can be perceived, something caring and supportive, in the fabric of consciousness itself.

Perhaps in the coming year, the coming years, drugs like DMT will help us discard our preoccupation with our selves and trade our individuality for a connectedness that includes our fellow humans and the planet we share.



34 thoughts on “Happy New Year: Drugs that can help

  1. Theresa January 2, 2020 at 9:51 am #

    Happy New Year and thank you for an interesting article, Marc. I always enjoy reading your blogs. Thank you for sharing your experience and expertise.

    I don’t have children, and have wondered at what age would I broach the conversation regarding responsible use.

    A few trips to Peru between 2006-2010, I’ve almost 100 Ayahuasca journeys. My self-designed BA degree (2008), focuses on my work with the medicine and my passion for non-ordinary states of consciousness.

    And nothing (except caffeine since).

    A gentle combination of Psilocybin and MDMA in the very early 2000’s, in a talking circle (one session) relieved me of my life-long depression. I quit drinking alcohol very soon after. (I was drinking too much.)

    A Few Thoughts:

    * In the US, the cities of Oakland and Chicago have decriminalized the use of entheogenic (touching the god within) plant medicines. Denver has decriminalized magic mushrooms (psilocybin), and Portland, OR is probably next.

    * Paul Stamets & Louie Schwartzberg’s film, “Fantastic Fungi” (just released) provides a great deal of information regarding the healing properties of psilocybin.

    * Stamets is also promoting another new film, “Dosed”, addressing the use of psilocybin to treat the opioid crisis.

    * MDMA is proving to be an incredibly effective healing tool. MAPS.org is working tirelessly with the FDA for legalization in a prescribed, therapeutic setting in the U.S. They’re also training up therapists and preparing to open healing centers, around the world. MDMA is an entactogen, that is, gets one in touch with one’s feelings, rather than being “psychedelic”. Ecstasy is the ‘street’ version of MDMA and is reported to be mixed at times with LSD, adding the psychedelic component. They are different chemical compounds.

    * Holotropic Breathwork is a drug-free venue to explore other states of consciousness, and can be as interesting and effective as a medicine journey. Music and breath. Very simple.

    This is an exciting time to be alive.

    All the Best to you in Yours,

    • Marc January 2, 2020 at 10:29 am #

      Thank you, Theresa. This is an extremely helpful addendum. These progressive steps in the land of the Drug War are particularly heartening. Also, I’m glad you mentioned holotropic breathing. People who are interested in exploring altered states without drugs should consider this approach. Here’s a relevant site: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w6VcbH2ypMg

  2. Eric Nada January 2, 2020 at 12:05 pm #

    Marc, I’m so glad that you have shared this. First, I love the passage in Waking Up that you are referring to. I have read it many times and have shared it with many friends. I want my own daughter to have a healthy relationship to the drugs she decides to have in her life, and any discussion that we have about a total prohibition is unrealistic and only serves to put us beyond the ability to discuss what she actually decides to do. (It’s easy for me to speculate now, she’s only 5)! And I have used the waking up app for a while and like it very much (I hope he invites you onto his podcast one day).

    But I’m glad that you are open about your therapeutic use of psychedelics. As a mental health professional, I’ve had to make my own decisions about how open to be about my own experiences, and have, too, decided to be open. I began work with ayahuasca four years ago. I sit with a group 2-3 times per year. For me, it can only be described as a perfect fit. It has allowed my already inquisitive and insightful nature to learn more about myself, my wounds, and my path to healing than any modality I have yet tried (I say this as a practicing psychotherapist and growth-modality guinea pig). So I’m so glad that we can start having these discussions openly. But my recent experience with 5ma0-DMT…was next level. It was the most divine experience of my life. It was much more “big picture” than my ayahuasca work, less about Eric the human and more about Eric the entity, but it was truly divine and three months later I’m still processing what I learned from the experience (too personal to share in detail for now).

    I hold little hope that psychedelic work will survive the rigors of modern research in a way that they make themselves anything close to a mainstream approach to mental health problems. Mostly because the mechanics that they expose don’t fit within the medical model which, driven by profit, is what we follow, at least here in America. I find that psychedelic work speaks to a different paradigm of healing, one that prioritizes the importance of learning to participate properly in the human process of love instead of trying to figure out and synthesize harmonious brain chemistry neurotransmitter by neurotransmitter. These are vital discussions to be having, thanks.

    (I do want to point out though, that 5mao-DMT is different than DMT, which is something that readers should know).

    • Marc January 3, 2020 at 4:27 pm #

      Hi Eric. Thanks for such a thoughtful comment. I’m pleased and not surprised that you (and other fellow travellers) have decided to be open about your therapeutic exploration of these substances and the respect you accord them. As more and more people devoted to helping others discover the potency of psychedelics, for many people in many circumstances, then perhaps the pessimistic note of your last paragraph will be overcome. Theresa’s comment (above) really encourages me, that even in the US, progressive people in progressive municipalities will push the envelope. Mental health problems, especially in the US and the UK, are so debilitating and so costly that I’d like to think good medicines will climb their way out of the ditch of societal biases and profit-based practices. The fact that the DEA gave up its intention to ban kratom also encourages me that people’s voices and needs sometimes speak louder than those whose mission is to maintain norms.

  3. Theresa January 2, 2020 at 12:12 pm #

    PS – Please excuse typos/punctuation faux pas. Written in the dark in the wee-hours, not to disturb my house guest.

  4. Colin Brewer January 2, 2020 at 12:24 pm #

    I suspect that most drugs – including methamphetamine and heroin – are reasonably safe to experiment with (compared with alcohol and nicotine) if the experimentation is done when people have got through adolescence fairly intact and have developed a fairly stable identity. As psychiatric trainees in the 1960s, we were almost encouraged to try the drugs we prescribed for our patients, if only to make ourselves more aware of their side effects. Considering that doctors of my generation were able to help ourselves to almost anything we wanted, I think our rates of addiction are actually quite modest but in most cases the experimentation didn’t occur until we were well into our 20s.
    When anxious teenagers, whose personalities and identities are still fluid and developing, take powerful mood-altering drugs, or drugs that blur the boundaries between ‘reality’ (with or without the quotation marks) and the imagination, it doesn’t seem surprising if frightening and destabilising reactions sometimes occur, or that experimentation that relieves anxiety becomes frequent enough to qualify as a habit.
    I’ve heard many post-operative patients say, after receiving a shot of morphine, that they can understand how some people get addicted to the stuff but it is rare for those patients actually to become addicted. That’s probably in part because most of them are well into adulthood by the time they need major surgery.
    Ethnopharmacology is an interesting field. However, whenever I read phrases like “x is proving to be an incredibly effective healing tool’, I suspect that the person making the claim has little knowledge or clinical experience of just how powerful placebo and non-specific effects can be. The history of medicine – especially psychiatry – is largely the history of seemingly good ideas (not to mention many bad ideas) that didn’t actually work, or whose bad effects outweighed any good ones. Most ‘breakthroughs’ are not breakthroughs. The null hypothesis – an important corollary to the randomised controlled trial – says that we should assume that claims of effectiveness are wrong and thus require the people making the claims to provide good evidence rather than assertion. Unfortunately, fee-per-item medical systems, as in the US but not as in our NHS, are an incentive for practitioners to both make and believe such claims.

    • Marc January 3, 2020 at 4:03 pm #

      Hi Colin. It’s true that the kind of guidance I’m considering is tailored to teens. But while adults are less likely to fall into the more obvious traps, adults who experiment with meth and heroin are also taking serious risks. Unless they are so very balanced and psychologically healthy that they can change course as soon as it seems advisable to do so. Psychostimulants and strong opiates are “attractive” to animals all the way down the evolutionary ladder, down to zebrafish and crayfish, as I’ve recently reported. So I have to conclude that some substances are truly more addictive than others, beginning at the physiological level and from there on up to thoughts and feelings. These are not simply societal demarcations — they’re built into our biology.

      Re the ethnographic appeal and promise of substances like ayahuasca, I agree with you that context matters hugely. I assume this is what you mean by “non-specific effects.” And placebo effects are close cousins, as they depend entirely on interactions between expectations and persuasive discourse. I think the most common diversion is when people repeatedly take these substances but spend little or no effort processing or defining what they might have learned. That’s when the “good ideas” go flat.

      • Colin Brewer January 3, 2020 at 7:14 pm #

        Hi Marc – and happy new year! Two thoughts. First, we shouldn’t forget the Rat Park studies. They showed that rats exposed to drugs that got them quickly and hopelessly addicted in cages had little effect when the rats roamed free and had the normal distractions of rat life.
        Second, by placebo and non specific effects, I meant the powerful therapeutic effect that simply being in treatment can have, regardless of the nature of the treatment. See Edwards et al’s insufficiently famous ‘treatment vs advice for alcoholism’ study of 1976 – one of Britain’s shamefully few really useful contributions to addiction research. Apart from possible specific, pharmacological effects, you would expect a rather dramatic treatment like ayahuasca to have very large placebo effects, just as placebo electroconvulsive treatment has. (As well as the results of placebo-controlled trials of ECT, I know how effective it can be because I used it a couple of times before it became unfashionable/unacceptable to give placebos without telling patients.) I’m sure that other fine old Amerindian treatment that involved drilling holes in the patient’s skull would halt or pause quite a few addiction careers. Both Russian and Chinese neurosurgeons have actually done that lately but they extend their surgery to the brain itself. They claim good results but have yet to show that invading the brain gets better results than just simple trephining. Therapeutic humility should be our default position but it’s unpopular with both patients and practitioners, both of whom naturally prefer good news to bad.

        • Marc January 4, 2020 at 12:10 pm #

          This is interesting, Colin. It’s true, like most others, I tend to overlook placebo effects. I remember well the fire-lit circle of faces around the maloka, the shaman in the middle, dressed in white with feathers and and a very special headpiece, mixing his brew, pouring a new cup for each person, turn by turn. His beatific smile, the sense of sharing something amazing with a few friends and many (very cool looking) strangers. It would have been hard not to feel enhanced just by the trappings. But I also remember the powerful, earth-tilting impact of the substance itself. It came about 45 minutes after I ingested that foul-tasting liquid. Not only could it not be ignored, it almost dared you to cognize the event, so to speak: take this! And just try to stay in control….hah!

          I’ll never forget Rat Park. That’s why it’s taken me up until just the last few months to conclude that certain (non-food) substances are intrinsically attractive to many kinds of animals. Of course that doesn’t spell addiction, but it’s a leg-up, wouldn’t you say?

          Just reading an amazing book called Other MInds…about the evolution of consciousness across radically different lineages, from cephalopods to…us. This book also refers to research on animals’ responses to drugs.

          Happy New Year to you!

  5. Terry John McGrath January 2, 2020 at 8:35 pm #

    re Crack, Ice and Heroin – is our fear of these substances valid really ? Narcotics are safely used in medicine every single day by millions – Amphetamine is relatively harmless as is Cocaine, its only when they are artificially compressed into Crack and Ice (as a result of the War) that we have major issues – in going away from nature we have introduced more harm – all natural drugs have uses – we all use variants of hard stimulants every day, coffee as one example. As a nurse i might fear Asprin or Panodol as much as Ice for very good reasons. So much of this fear is generated in the context of the misinformation meant to paint drug users as evil immoral decadent deviants. We can become aware that the drug laws are not based on actual scientific reasons – you yourself recognize that by creating your 3 lists of illicit drugs – drugs like Cannabis & MDMA are not in any way on the same league as the damage capable of being caused by alcohol, a legal drug so how can they be deemed to be illicit for any other reason than pure discrimination and a desire to attack the underclasses. The drugs currently being studied for positive uses include many of the hallucinogens. LSD was investigated in the 60’s for it’s potential use in treating alcoholism – what it did was produce in an individual a “spiritual awakening’ much like that described by Bill Wilson of AA fame but then the scaremongers put a stop to the idea that these bad drugs could be of any actual help to humanity. its a good thing that is turning. anyone who has had acid knows it’s potential – and maybe an Acid trip as part of the high school curriculum to give higher awareness of life might be something for the future that’s not out of the weird basket it might sound now. What we do know is that ‘Just say No’ doesn’t work for the young and that much harm is being done to young illiterate drug users who are using those hard drugs way before they ever have learned about how to use drugs safely

    • Shaun Shelly January 3, 2020 at 3:03 am #

      100% spot on.

    • Marc January 4, 2020 at 12:59 pm #

      Thanks for your response, Terry John. I agree with pretty much everything you say, though I quibble about discrimination/attack of the underclasses when it comes to cannabis and MDMA. Alcohol and tobacco have been most commonly used and misused by people of low means, all over the world, and of course they are legal.

      To bring this complex issue to some resolution, you and Shaun (below) have really said it all. My summary: Almost all drugs have beneficial uses. Drugs that are highly processed and far more efficient than their natural cousins (e.g., heroin, meth, crack) also have uses (I guess with the exception of crack), but their capacity to do harm also goes up exponentially. I think we agree on that. And it’s almost impossible to talk about drugs like alcohol and cannabis without clearly defining contexts of use and the vulnerabilities of the user. Both drugs are often harmless, usually fun, and sometimes quite beneficial. Both drugs CAN be addictive but most often are not. When alcohol becomes an addiction, it can cause great harm. When cannabis is taken addictively, the harm pales in comparison (hence the insanity of legal distinctions)…but especially for young people, it can interfere with much else, e.g., work that requires crisp cognitive processing (e.g., school) and social maturation.

  6. Shaun Shelly January 3, 2020 at 3:02 am #

    Hey Marc and others. A quick note on the ‘talking to children about drugs’ and where the harm lies:

    1. In a prohibitionist world, drugs are rendered inherently dangerous because we have no idea what the dose or even the drug is. This makes drugs like MDMA potentially lethal. Understand there are risks, and what those risks are.
    2. The harm and benefit of any drug are often determined by individual vulnerabilities – one person’s pleasure is another person’s poison. I know many people who just do better on opioids, while cashew nuts can kill some people. Carl Hart’s meta-analysis of Meth is thought-provoking ( https://www.nature.com/articles/npp2011276 ) as is this article in Vice: https://psmag.com/social-justice/the-many-surprising-health-benefits-of-meth
    3. A single drug at the correct dose, especially where there is tolerance, is seldom lethal. The real danger lies in drug mixing. Benzos, alcohol and opioids in various combinations have killed many people, while in isolation and at appropriate doses have rendered some lives livable.

    With the above in mind: My advice to my kids and the many young adults and children I have spoken to over the years, is, ideally, wait until you are older. Your brain is better equipped to handle drugs and maximise the benefits and reduce the risks. If you are determined to use:

    1. Don’t mix drugs, especially not alcohol with other drugs.
    2. Know why you are taking a drug and what effect you are wanting to achieve.
    3. Test small quantities first. Try and use the same reliable supply.
    4. Use with people you know and trust.
    5. Have someone you can call if you get into trouble or need reliable drug advice. My kids know that they can always call me in ANY circumstances and I will be there to get through a crisis without judgement or anger.
    6. Never inject, and if you do, never, ever share or reuse a needle.
    7. AND, very importantly, do not get caught, a criminal charge can really screw up your future.

    That’s my few cents worth. I remember that David Nutt’s chapter on talking to kids about drugs in his book “Drugs without the hot air” was excellent, and has no doubt influenced my thinking on the matter.

    Thanks again for your thought-provoking blog.

    • Marc January 6, 2020 at 6:20 am #

      Shaun, I love your recipe for how to talk to kids about drugs. I will take it to heart, and I hope others do too. Your emphasis on the risks of mixing substances is also really important. I hadn’t considered that, but it is surely a major concern.

      You and I have talked often about the formula that “some people just do better on….x…” I still go back and forth on this one. To me it sometimes translates to: people who are lonely, helpless, lacking in support, and pushed aside by their families or communities do better on…well, usually opioids. For reasons I understand very well. Trouble is, that these “helpers” almost always establish tolerance, require increasing doses, and end up losing much of their efficiency.

      For that reason, the most sensible conclusion I can come up with is that they constitute temporary remedies…for psychological/emotional wounds just as for physical pain. I think you and I agree that they should be accessible when they are needed to soothe wounds of either sort.

      • Shaun Shelly January 6, 2020 at 2:57 pm #

        I think what you say is true, however, even though tolerance builds, and people don’t get ‘high” anymore, they can still find a benefit – for some, it seems to balance an endogenous lack..perhaps? But mostly it is a bridge over troubled water in times of need (someone should write a song!)
        I do know a number of people who have used opioids for decades and could not imagine life without them, and they are well-adjsuted people with no more severe problems than most of society.
        Nice to be back in your space on the web…one of the few zones of intelligence and reasoned debate.

        • Marc January 7, 2020 at 7:56 am #

          Nice to have you back! Your ideas are hugely refreshing, and I’m glad that our readers will continue to be exposed to your unique slant on drugs, addiction, and policy issues.

          For those of you who don’t know Shaun, he sits on a number of international bodies, committees, etc, whose function it is to advance and refine policy and legal guidelines around drug use. These include at least two different UN committees on drug policy reform. Words to (and from) the wise!

  7. Morgan Machen January 3, 2020 at 5:10 pm #

    Can anyone offer advise on finding an MDMA therapist? I’ve set an intention of locating a few doses that I can use in a therapeutic setting. I live in the U.S. so I realize it’s going to be a longshot until the laws change.

  8. Larissa Goruk January 6, 2020 at 6:54 pm #

    Once again thank you Marc for your honest testimony as to your experiences with drugs. Also good approach to your own kids – it’s much better to level with young people rather than trying to scare them out of their wits. My own 2 sons (now 27 and 31) were way too scared of trying anything like drugs, alcohol or even experiences with the opposite sex. They’re are on the autism spectrum, high-functioning but with difficulties in social communication. So risking rejection is a big concern. I hope that they will each still find their way to connecting with people (a few trusted people) to include mates.

    I’m just waiting to get on CBD oil for sleep and to go off the Seroquel which makes me groggy into the next day.

    When younger, I used to meditate but now at 69 I’m so wired that’s it’s hard to sit and breathe even for 2 minutes. So CBD first along with deep breathing, then eventually just deep breathing for sleep. Is the plan.

    All the testimony of other people on this blog is very enriching. I’ve added more bio today to my own response in the hope that there may be other people with spectrum type traits in their own families and inner circles.

    Keep up the good work and take care

    • Marc January 7, 2020 at 8:02 am #

      Thank you Larissa. I also hope to see more input from people whose children (or who themselves) have unique conditions that influence the help and harm they might expect from drugs.

      I have yet to try CBD oil. Seems everybody else has. I hope sleep gets easier. Meanwhile, I’m really enthusiastic about the Sam Harris (Waking Up) guided meditation app. It is so adaptable to settings and states…other than sitting upright with your eyes closed.

      • Larissa Goruk January 10, 2020 at 2:35 pm #

        Thanks very much for your reply. I’ll look into the Sam Harris app – sitting upright like a statue is pretty much what I try for and it sounds so comical! I’ll be reading everyone’s posts, getting a feel for folks out there.

        take care

  9. holly edwards January 7, 2020 at 4:49 pm #

    It’s true that drugs of all varieties can expand our minds, or lead us into hopelessness and despair. What seems to be missing in this dialog is the effect of our environment — rat park! Yes, rats with friends and lovers don’t become addicts. No amount of substances (or gurus) can overcome a life without friends and lovers. We’re facing environmental collapse and a rise of totalitarianism. Where’s the drug for that?

  10. Doug January 10, 2020 at 1:14 am #

    Wow , you are smoking toad saliva in a closely mentored situation? Your saying that psychodelic drugs should be experienced by everyone ? Do you realize that this discredits anything you have done or ever while do… you are full of BS and your government give away fake job is as worthless as you are. If you are joking about what you did that’s cool, I’ll eat crow, but I think you actually are the biggest hypocrite on earth . By the way you’ve proved that addiction is a disease and you my friend have got that sickness

    • Marc January 11, 2020 at 9:06 am #

      I was waiting for this one…it was bound to come. Any thoughts?

      Only one occurs to me: I didn’t say *everyone* should take psychedelics. A certain level of psychological stability should be a precondition. Hope that was clear.

      • Doug January 12, 2020 at 7:00 pm #

        The addicted or formerly addicted who read this and looked up to you, are generally not psychologically stable. You know or better know that many addicts are self medicating to deal with an underlying mental problem. You can rationalize what you did, but they can’t .
        Thanks for responding I’ve cooled my jets and still greatly respect your work

        • Marc January 13, 2020 at 8:24 pm #

          Hi Doug. Not sure why you were so angry, but thank you for your kind words, and for reconsidering the thrust if not the point. Still, we have different perspectives. I don’t think self-medication is intrinsically bad, and sometimes it’s the best available option, whether it’s a cup of coffee, a shot of rum, or a Valium. Vast numbers of Americans take antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds daily, despite their well-known risks. Methadone (and other non-street opiates) clearly save lives.

          All drugs come with risks, and I think I was clear about that. But depression, anxiety, and addiction also have risks. If psychedelics can help, as research and anecdotal accounts indicate, then why push for an absolute closed-door policy?

          Please see other comments. See reviews of the Pollan book. The risks of psychedelics are nowhere close to the risks of heroin or meth, or legal substances like alcohol taken too much or too often. They are not addictive, they don’t cause cell damage, and they don’t kill, no matter how much you take. The risk of psychosis is tiny, but it should be acknowledged. Almost everyone who “freak outs” on psychedelics (and that’s a small percentage) comes back in one piece, and perhaps they’ve learned something useful in the process, unpleasant though it may have been.

          Yes, many people who take drugs might not be viewed as psychologically stable. But I’m not sure that stability is an optimal end-point in our severely compromised social order. These are complex times, and complex issues, to be discussed and reflected on. Individual needs and capacities should be the key determinants of how to weigh potential benefits against potential risks.

  11. Richard Henry January 12, 2020 at 7:13 pm #

    Another amazing reality, spoken from a professional. I cam to believe this sentence to be true many years ago that my sense of reality has no preordained limits, Keep your words of wisdom coming through your Blog Marc
    Respect Richard

  12. Jess January 12, 2020 at 7:59 pm #

    I agree with your presented views on psychedelics. I think they have the potential to bring about positive changes in many people, and are among the more harmless types of drugs. Your three categories of drugs listed in this blog are a bit silly though. The biggest thing that stood out was that just prior to listing alcohol in the third category, you say “alcohol and tobacco are the most hazardous of substances”. So alcohol is very hazardous, but also really is ok if used appropriately? Please explain if you would.

    I personally think “hazardous but ok if used appropriately”, could describe most drugs, including the infamous heroin. I tried it for the first time 11 years ago, when I was 20 and semi-homeless with two of my best friends. We drove around and hung out in libraries during the day, snuck into hotel rooms we didn’t pay for at night. I worked at a hotel’s front desk and would manipulate the system to conceal our usage, we would empty/clean our room and leave before housekeeping staff arrived in the morning. No sense of stability or home. It was a very stressful time for me. During this time, we would obtain heroin once a week or so. It helped me get through those bad times alive, honestly. Even though the direct effects/high might not last more than half an hour or so, just the knowledge that that level of relief would at some point come, was relief on its own.

    After 6 months of living like that, the three of us found a cheap apartment of our own finally. After that point, we only got heroin once every 3 months or so, as a sort of treat. We didn’t ever inject (sadly one of my two friends got with a junkie guy years later, and started injecting, got addicted. she is now clean though), and we didn’t do enough for long enough to go through withdrawal. Heroin had helped me get through some of the worse times, and then continued to be a good, if less close, pal after that.

    In 2012 I moved out, and started dating a guy who was extremely anti-dope. He had had a negative experience with prescription morphine as a teenager, and said a friend got him hooked on it. When I would try to discuss my experiences with heroin, he would not listen, and would get very irate at any suggestion that it could be used responsibly. I agreed to not use it anymore, just to alleviate his worries, and avoid arguing. So I went 5 years without a speck of it.

    The anti-dope guy was a bit of an alcoholic and treated me poorly, so we eventually broke up. Suddenly “free”, I began to get heroin again about two years ago. I get a small amount (a gram, which lasts less than a day for most users Ive met) that I can make last a month or longer, as I do a small line once a day or so, and make sure I take a lot of breaks to avoid dependence. I document every instance of drug use in a daily journal. I mostly wait to use it until I’m about to do something enjoyable, like go for a walk/hike. Walking in the fog is by far the most enjoyable thing I can think of to do while affected by it. So much so, that fog is the one thing that I would say “triggers” me strongly to want to use it. I can easily decide not to indulge after seeing heroin directly in front of me, or seeing other people use it. But if it is super foggy outside I fiend like a mother fucker. It’s crazy!

    Some quick info on me: I’m a 31 year old cis-woman. Rough upbringing with lots of moving around and poverty. Mother had 6 kids with 3 guys, I had to help raise them as she was a single mom most of the time. Dropped out of high school in January of senior year despite a 3.87 GPA, because I hated school so much. Went to college but didn’t graduate. Was diagnosed with severe prolonged depression and general anxiety disorder last year. I don’t drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes. I don’t ingest food or drinks that contain high fructose corn syrup, and I don’t drink coffee or any soda. I do smoke weed daily, and am admittedly dependent on it. I don’t intend to ever stop smoking marijuana though, unless it produces very negative effects. I currently work 5 days a week with my two jobs, have no kids, and zero points on my drivers license. I pay $28/month for car insurance due to my stellar driving history. Now you know all you need to know lol

    • Marc January 17, 2020 at 9:40 am #

      Hi Jess, and thanks for sharing your fascinating story. I don’t think I have to explain my “used appropriately” phrase to you, as you’ve now provided a unique example of just that. And I agree that most drugs, if used appropriately, are ok…but that’s just a definition. Appropriate use = safe use. So that doesn’t get us very far.

      That’s why we have to think about these issues statistically. And statistically, heroin, meth, and crack, are clearly the most hazardous of drugs. Your experience of occasional controlled heroin use is statistically rare. And though I agree with you, that there’s nothing wrong with your using it, nothing morally wrong, that doesn’t tell us much about the danger to the *average* user.

      Hence my categories, silly as they might be.

      I’ve frequently heard the argument that opiates, as antidepressants or even as “recreation” — your kind of use — can be helpful rather than harmful. And I agree that that’s possible and blind prohibition isn’t a very smart counterargument….BUT. it’s because opiates, especially heroin, work so very well in that vein (pun intended) that they are indeed more intrinsically addictive than most other drugs!

      Since I don’t know yet whether my kids will have your unique mindset and capacities, I will warn them not to take chances with heroin. Ever.

      Oh, and there is the little matter of overdose risk and unknown composition, fentanyl cocktails and so forth. Not to be sneezed at, even if you’re snorting.

  13. CM January 13, 2020 at 7:09 pm #

    Many paths many ways often paths untraveled and many narratives to confuse and baffle, each to their own and our own is all we have, bridging the phenomenological gap and creating a place where we are found and realised is a solo journey. Gosh how connectedness and the search for meaning takes enormous courage. Here we all stand a testimony to nothing other than our sense of things, hello is anybody out there! Love to all as it goes “ashes and diamonds, foe or friend we were all equal in the end!

    • Marc January 13, 2020 at 7:49 pm #

      What an incredibly beautiful message. Enchanting. I was feeling sad. I’m still a little sad, but now peaceful and even smiling.

      Does it take courage, or simply acquiescence? I’m not sure there’s much choice involved.

      You say, “testimony to nothing other than our sense of things.” I really got the point a couple of nights ago.

      I was riding my bike around in the drizzle, in Arnhem. My family was on its way to sleep. I stopped at a bar. Had a whiskey. Big deal. I stopped by a beggar, sitting still, blanket ready to receive. I gave him more than I’ve ever given any beggar, just because. He nodded. An hour later I happened to ride by again, and he was still sitting there. I’d thought, with that bonanza, he’d at least take a break, maybe go sleep indoors somewhere. But I guess he just wanted to sit there. I called a friend who almost always wants to see me. She was busy. I went to a restaurant which refused to serve me food. I complained: the sign on the door says you’re open till 10, and my watch says 9:15. His English was as bad as my Dutch, but he did not relent. It wasn’t until the next morning that I realized my watch had stopped. Dead battery. I rode around in circles, looking for a bite. I found the worst nachos in existence. And when I finally got home, my key didn’t fit the lock. Luckily the back door was open.

      Now my family is very much asleep, and I’m downstairs eating fries. With mayonnaise. After nearly 10 years in the Netherlands, I can’t imagine eating fries without mayonnaise.

      • CM January 13, 2020 at 8:15 pm #


  14. April January 14, 2020 at 7:03 pm #

    Very important post! My friends who are experts in the therapeutic use of psychedelics, whether in the context of ancient rituals or modern day exploration of the use of drugs like MDMA for post traumatic stress disorder, say that it is like experiencing your life, including all the pain, but between two soft pillows. That you are able to relive and deal with experiences without the trauma responses that hold us back and keep us frozen: namely, flight, fight or freeze. My typical one was always freeze, and I have spent most of my life alternating between anxiety and panic and being high off one thing or another, whether it was ambition, pursuit of a guy (never as much fun once I got him – I think it’s the dopamine rush that produced the high) and later, a serious alcohol use problem. Eventually, nothing but alcohol, followed by a manic blast of ambition, could relive severe panic followed by depression.

    I wanted to share my experience with an accidental hallucination experience. I was in the most severe alcohol withdrawal experience of my life (and I’ve had a lot!), and for the first time, I experienced the kind of hallucinations that I had read about. It started as nightmares where I relived traumatic experiences, and woke up in a panic but relieved that it wasn’t real.

    Then it turned into waking hallucinations. I realized things about my childhood that I had never seen before, and they were terrifying and horrifying. I went back to being the frightened child who had to be perfect all the time. I went manic cleaning, trying to please everyone, especially my parents. I scrubbed the floor until my fingers bled. My mother was extremely worried about my behavior, needless to say. She couldn’t understand why I was putting myself through such pain. But I wasn’t doing it on purpose – I truly thought this was what I had to do. A lot of it was triggered by unbearable pressure of all sorts. And a lot of it was living out a severe case of PTSD – so bad that experts refused to treat it unless they could put their most senior person it, who unfortunately cost $500 an hour.

    I was extremely fortunate, or as some would say blessed, to be helped by an expert in the field who arranged free treatment for me. I went on baclofen, a drug I had researched and written about, that medicates GABA(b) and that many have used to curb or cure alcohol cravings. It did a great deal for my anxiety, and still does, but wasn’t enough. Talk therapy only made it worse – if I have to tell my story one more time I will scream! CBT was as useless as an octopus on an alpaca farm. It was been my experience and those of others that trauma is locked in the body (I’m quoting Peter Levine, I think), and yoga and meditation are my best medication.

    But the hallucinations, though horrific, unlocked some truths I had to face. Because they happened in a bad environment (to say the least), it was like experiencing trauma between two sharp knives. What followed was a relapse into severe PTSD, with extreme and debilitating physical and mental symptoms. However, I was finally able to address these issues, and come to terms with them. I realized that I was doing some very destructive things in my life, mostly because I felt pressure to please others. I made important and difficult decisions to stand up for myself.

    If it weren’t for the reliving of the trauma through severe hallucinations, I believe I couldn’t have done this. As horrible as it was, I had to face the pain to break through it. I wish I had done it in a better context, but perhaps this way was what it took for me. It brought out the strength to refuse to put anything in the way of doing what I was called to do. Now I have made a giant career change, gotten rid of toxic relationships, and put my Zen practice at the top of my priority list, no matter what others think I should be doing with my Sunday mornings.

    Bill Wilson had a similar experience that led to what he called a spiritual breakthrough, but he continued to suffer from depression that would leave him in bed for weeks (I’ve been there) and a deadly addiction to smoking. Yet while I am not a fan of AA, he led a movement that changed the way our society looked at alcohol use problems in a time when it was much worse than it was now. He experimented with LSD, and believed that in time we would find better treatments. I believe if he were alive today, he would be pushing hard for legalization of MDMA.

    My experience was horrific, but it led to a huge and life-changing breakthrough.

    • Marc January 17, 2020 at 9:53 am #

      Thanks for sharing this, April. It is unusual to hear people talk about the benefits of horrific drug-induced experiences. But it seems that the common denominator here — the link between the soft-pillow effect of trauma-relevant drug experiences and the sharp-knives version — is that drugs like psychedelics and MDMA allow psychological journeys that are normally closed down and locked up. And it’s in that respect that they can educate us and even heal us of our wounds.

      It’s interesting to think that these two extremes can also be seen in more conventional psychotherapy. (though I get that psychotherapy didn’t do it for you) I’ve spent more years in therapy than I care to remember, and it was both the inviting safety of the context and, sometimes, the avalanche of pain from traumatic past events, that helped me move on with my life and become a relatively happy person. So…I guess reliving horrific feelings isn’t my favourite way to proceed, but like Wim Hof’s swim in icey water, it can kick us sharply into being more open and alive.

  15. holly edwards January 24, 2020 at 7:37 pm #

    Just coming down from the toad saliva and…
    Seriously, though, I don’t think I expressed myself very well in my last post.
    I know there’s a lot to be gained from delving into our minds with drugs, meditation or walks through the woods. My question is, considering the distressed state of the world and our country, how do we put our insights into action? Any thoughts?

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