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The Radical Ideas of Psychedelic Research 2.0: Pt. 2
Internal transformation = external transformation. And spirituality heals.
I explore science, spirituality, consciousness, the transpersonal, and more weird stuff in my book: Order here, or wherever books are sold.
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This won’t be the normal and boring, “What are the neural correlates of consciousness?” We’ll have neuroscientists in the field explore alternative theories, including the idea that consciousness is fundamental.
Saturday, 11/11/23, 6:30pm - 10:00pm, Renaissance Washington DC Hotel (Rm 8 + 9)
** This is a two-part series. Part 1 was published last month here. **
In this two-part series, I’m zooming out from the findings of Psychedelic Research 2.0 (i.e. this current new wave of research) to comment on how they’re waking us from the catatonia of reductionism and separation. This new research is showing us just how interconnected everything is.
Radical idea #1: Stop thinking it’s just the medication that heals you. Mind, body, environment and context are all interconnected and influence how you heal. So, we should be leveraging these – in other words, stop ignoring placebo, and use it instead.
Radical idea #2: The treatment/experiment moment is not a discrete moment of time that heals the person. Instead, it is part of a time-series (pre-treatment, treatment, post-treatment) that work together to heal. All science and healthcare should be re-worked with this model.
I ended the last newsletter saying: environment, context, mindset, social dynamics, pre-events, post-events, and so much more are all related to how much healing you get. I’m using psychedelic research to make this point because the field is already primed to think about ‘set and setting.’ But, this is true for all research and healthcare, and it’s time we stop acting like it isn’t.
Which brings us to Radical idea #3…
When you drastically transform, everything around you will also drastically transform. This might seem obvious, but it’s so crucial for participants to understand this concept that there is starting to be conversation around ‘informed consent’ in psychedelic research, which is when researchers explain the important details of a study to ensure people truly understand the study and the potential effects.
The reason this is so incredibly important is that transformative experiences, like psychedelics, are impossible to imagine and fully comprehend beforehand because the nature of the experience is so radically different from the nature of all the person’s previous experiences. Psychedelic substances can have a profound impact on a person's thoughts, personality, beliefs, and behavior, and can lead to significant and rapid changes in a person's values and preferences. The question here is: can we truly give informed consent for a transformative experience like psychedelics?1
Usually, informed consent is focused on explaining the personal risks and benefits of the study solely to the participant. But, because these interventions are potentially so transformative – so much so that relationships can also change – it might be beneficial to highlight the risks and benefits that go beyond just the individual, such as including the significant people in the participant’s life.
For example, in a best case future scenario if/when informed consent is revised for transformative experiences, potential risks might include: (1) feeling alienated or isolated over being unable to share the gifts, wisdom, information or values with close connections, (2) feeling frustration over being unable to share the experience due to its ineffable, beyond-language quality, and (3) broken or strained relationships with family, religious community, or friends is possible due to changed values, previous worldviews or religious beliefs. (See here for more.)
Again, this is because when you change, everything changes: the way you interact with other people, your beliefs, your hobbies, your lifestyle, all of it. How can we clearly outline that with radical internal transformation comes external transformation? As above, so below; as within, so without. Radical idea #3: It is important that people understand that they are a node in a network, and that when they change, other aspects of their life will also change, and the people in their life will also be affected. It’s all connected.
And lastly – my favorite – Radical idea #4: connecting to something greater than ourselves is healing. And, reality is way more fucking weird than we are ready to admit. (yes, I’m lumping these together because I said there would be 4 radical ideas and I’m too lazy to change it to 5… and they’re somewhat related)
With disgust, Western culture chopped off its own spiritual/transpersonal/paranormal arm a few hundred years ago. It’s now the embarrassing oddball pet that we’d rather keep in the basement, out of sight. “Please don’t bring that up again – we’ve already settled this.”
But have we?
There are innumerable accounts of weird or “impossible” experiences on psychedelics that end up being veridical, or verifiably true – I wrote about it here. In fact, these substances have been used across time, culture, and continents to access other ‘realms’ – as have other altered states of consciousness. However, these experiences go against the Western worldview, so… what are we to do? The good news is that it’s usually healing.
In psychedelic trials, the stronger the mystical or spiritual experience in the psychedelic state, the more therapeutic the outcome (i.e. greater reduction in depressive, anxious, or addictive symptoms).2–5 In other words, having a mystical or spiritual experience heals you. And that includes encountering entities – like insectoid aliens, angels, or elves (as I wrote about here). It’s not just psychedelics either. People who have experienced mystical/spiritual states report sensing unity and interconnectedness, merging with the Universe/God/Ultimate Reality, as well as a sense of profound meaning. In his recent talk at the Archives of the Impossible Conference (Rice University), Joel Gruber explains that exposure to nondual/spiritual/emergent/mystical (call them whatever you want) experiences alleviates depression, anxiety, loneliness, and addiction.
Why? Truthfully, we don’t know. But it’s probably at least partly because encountering the mystical or spiritual connects us to something greater than ourselves, and for some reason that appears to be healing for humans. And our healing is no laughing matter. We are in dire need of it.
Connection to something greater than ourselves and to the mysteries of the Universe is innate. Our scientific, Western culture has cut us off from this part of ourselves by denying the “superhuman” (as Jeff Kripal calls it) in us – or the “impossible” experiences that connect us to a much weirder part of our reality (if you want to be secular) and to something greater (if you want to be mystical). It has crushed what makes us human.
Reductionism has worked for us in many ways, but by compartmentalizing, we have missed that everything is, in fact, interconnected and in relationship with everything else. It’s been great fun to watch Psychedelic Research 2.0 inadvertently demolish the brick walls we’ve built up between things. Brick by brick, it’s bringing us back to wholeness.