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Understanding The Tools
The natural psychedelics have been in use for thousands of years, and I anticipate that both synthetic and natural psychedelics will still be used thousands of years from now.
Contrary to being considered dangerous, throughout most of history psychedelics have been considered gifts of the Gods, and have been associated with the healing of the body, mind and soul.
History is full of shamans and shamanesses who consumed these substances hundreds of times each year for their entire life and suffered no ill effects 1. Likewise my thousand or so experiments with various psychedelics seem to have done no harm. To the contrary, I feel I've received numerous benefits from their use.
I suspect most of the psychedelic scare stories published in the late Sixties and Seventies were generated by people pursuing their own political or financial agendas, or by people with fundamentalist morals who were afraid of losing their power, or even seeing people feel too good. Other scare stories were written purely for sensationalism to sell magazines and newspapers. Many of the stories, such as LSD causing chromosome damage, have been proven false. Other stories, such as the CIA's dosing of unsuspecting people who went on to jump out of windows... Well, as Robert Anton Wilson says "They either didn't know what was happening to them, they thought they were losing their minds, and they jumped out of the window. Or they did realize what was happening, that the intelligence agency of their own government was covertly giving them mind-altering drugs..., and they jumped out of the window." A thorough review of psychedelic history will show that problems encountered through psychedelic use are rare, especially if you consider that in this country alone, millions of doses of psychedelics are consumed each month.
When I discuss psychedelic safety I think it's important to separate physical safety from mental safety. Physical safety deals primarily with the drugs and various combinations thereof. Mental safety is a much more individual issue and must be monitored and evaluated by each psychedelic user. This section deals with general psychedelic safety. More information is given for specific substances where appropriate.
I consider ecstasy and other synthetics of the phenethylamine family exceptions in terms of psychedelic safety. These are amphetamine relatives which can mess up one's equilibrium, leaving one feeling physically drained and mentally frizzled. I definitely monitor my intake of these substances but have not found occasional use of moderate doses to do any lasting harm. There have been a few cases reported in which people died from dehydration after taking ecstasy at hot, crowded dance clubs, and attempting to dance for several hours straight without drinking any water. Extreme situations like this have been avoided by most users by exercising some forethought.
Aside from the use of ecstasy and the Belladonna alkaloids, I know of but one case where someone experienced physical harm from psychedelic use. And this was with the ultimately potent combination of Harmaline and 5-MeO-DMT. Anxiety about physical illness is a frequent response the mind can generate when undergoing the psychedelic transformation, and often the increased awareness of bodily functions can cause one to feel sick. It's useful to be able to distinguish whether a symptom is actually the result of a substance, or just the mind's imagination. The book The Psychedelic Experience describes this quite well. On psychedelics it's also possible for one to become aware of the complex body/mind relationship, and discover how to ease bodily discomfort by releasing mental/emotional blocks.
Whenever working with a new substance, the more cautious users will start with a small dose and work their way up. During this period they can watch how their body and mind responds to the drug and determine which dosage works for them. This can be important since some people may have powerful reactions to amounts which produce only minimal activity in most people. Some psychedelics, such as LSD, have a wide margin between the active dose and the amount which may be considered toxic. Other psychedelics, such as ecstasy, can exhibit toxic effects at just twice the average dose. Unfortunately, legal scientific research on these substances is practically non-existent, and the maximum safe dosages have not been accurately calculated.
It is not uncommon to feel nauseous on many of the psychedelics. Users generally report that if they feel the urge to vomit it's best to not resist it, and that they usually feel better afterwards. Nausea is not an indication that there is something wrong with one's trip. Indigenous people are known to say that Peyote, or Ayahuasca, acts as a purge, and is cleansing the body and soul. They also say that when the body and soul are purified one will no longer feel discomfort from the Peyote. I've often noticed that psychedelics purge and cleanse my body in a manner similar to fasting. Many users experiment with different diets or fasting prior to tripping, which can eliminate or reduce nauseous feelings during the trip.
Some people feel exhausted or out of touch with reality the day after a psychedelic trip. This can be expected since they went through so much during the experience. Many users find it's good to have an extra day after the trip to recuperate before returning to work, etc. Avoiding familiar routines for a day allows people to retain more from their psychedelic journeys.
Hopefully anybody using these substances knows that while high, it is dangerous to drive, fly a plane, etc. I'd like to emphasize this point since we live in a society where driving while intoxicated on alcohol is fairly common.
Many people may have driven while mildly high on a psychedelic without getting into accidents. However, I'm sure there are some who drove while tripping and are no longer alive to tell about it. If one were to take a large dose of a psychedelic they would be in a state of mind where the world that appears before their eyes is going through massive changes each moment. They may have difficulty recalling their name, and driving would be totally out of the question. Smaller doses of psychedelics produce similar but milder changes in one's consciousness. The psychedelic experience is simply not compatible with the split-second decisions and maneuvers one must routinely make while driving around in a two-ton chunk of steel at 60 MPH.
I think that to get the most from a psychedelic experience one must put aside time completely devoted to the experience, and take a dose that significantly alters perception. The "recreational" use of smaller amounts of psychedelics, as is common in social settings such as raves, concerts, and parties, seldom provides one with a full spectrum of the psychedelic experience. This is not to say that using psychedelics in this context can not be beneficial or enjoyable, but many people I have spoken with who have used psychedelics in only this type of setting don't appear to have had deep or powerfully transformational experiences. In a situation where transportation is required, people should try to have a friend drive them, take a cab, or simply beam themselves wherever they wish to go!
Anyone who has any type of health problem, or is taking prescription or over-the-counter medicines, should be cautious using psychedelics. Most psychedelics increase pulse rate and blood pressure. The effects of using psychedelics with medical problems, or most prescription drugs, is largely unknown. Anyone in this situation should find a knowledgeable and open-minded doctor to give them some advice. Pregnant women should also consult such a doctor prior to using psychedelics.
The main physical danger with psychedelics is with those that are MAO inhibitors and with combinations. Two psychedelics discussed in this book are MAO inhibitors: 5-MeO-DMT and the Harmala alkaloids. Many prescription anti-depressant drugs are also MAO inhibitors. MAO (Mono-Amine-Oxidase) is an enzyme in the body which breaks down certain foods and chemicals. If one has these foods or chemicals in their system while taking an MAO inhibitor they will not be broken down, which can result in discomfort, illness, or even death. Following this section is a list of items not to be taken with MAO inhibitors. Prior to taking an MAO inhibitor I review this list and do a double check on what's in my system. I've also found it useful to memorize this list of items so that I don't eat any foods that will make me sick while using MAO inhibitors.
Each person's mind and capacity for handling psychedelics is different. Psychedelics are not for everybody, and some of the substances discussed in this book are particularly heavy. Although most psychedelic trips are experienced as beneficial, some people have had experiences that left them disturbed afterwards. The main reason for these negative experiences is lack of preparation, rather than anything inherent in the person or in the substance. One's chances of having a bad trip, or not being able to reintegrate themselves afterwards, can be sharply reduced by learning about the experience.
A point I should note here is that I've never heard of anyone experiencing long term adverse effects through the use of natural psychedelics, such as psilocybin mushrooms or mescaline-containing cacti. When disturbing experiences are produced by these substances, the users seem to take it in stride and come back to center.
People with schizophrenia, or any other type of mental disorder beyond the common neurosis, should exercise extreme caution in using psychedelics. When psychedelic research was widespread until 1966 there were many successful results treating mental patients. However, people with mental imbalances have a greater risk of a negative experience, especially without the guidance of a therapist.
Psychedelics are much more than recreational drugs. They have the ability to make significant changes in us with a single use. Many advanced users consider this ability to "reimprint the mind" as the most important benefit of psychedelics. If examined closely, most psychedelic experiences will fit the following model. Psychedelics will dissolve one's identity and perceptual framework, a process commonly called "ego death." Next one experiences the raw or undifferentiated energies flowing through their senses from a formless or undefined state. They can tap into the vast banks of imagery within their mind, adding their creative powers to generate limitless visions of intricacy, beauty, and meaning. During this time one may try on various "filters" through which everything is perceived, and create hallucinations or experience many personalities. The journeyer will be outside of their normal conceptual framework and will be able to look at their thought processes and personality from new angles. Later in the experience they will re-assemble a new personality, based on their old personality, but hopefully improved.
In some cases it takes users numerous sessions to go through the process of ego death, and detach from their familiar mode of perceiving things. This often occurs when someone begins experimenting with small doses, and very gradually increases the amount they consume. In these cases the psychedelic never fully transports them out of routine awareness. When ego death is spread over weeks or months, it can take on strange manifestations as one experiences separation from various aspects of their familiar reality tunnel.
Much of each person's experience is based on SET and SETTING. Set refers to a person's mental and emotional makeup expectations about the experience, cultural upbringing, etc. Setting is the immediate environment and stimulus present during the experience whether outdoors or in a building, with friends or alone, the presence or absence of music, artwork, etc.
If I had to choose one setting as being the most conducive to a positive experience, I'd pick one which most closely resembles the time honored methods of using these substances. This would involve taking a natural psychedelic like mushrooms or Peyote. It would be done outdoors in nature, away from the noise and activity of any city and with a group of respected friends or family. For novices being initiated into the psychedelic world the session would be guided by trusted and experienced "elders".
People who try to manifest the lessons learned through psychedelic use seem to benefit the most from them. Examples of this are people who take psychedelics to modify their personality or thinking process, use them as part of a healing process, or have some creative outlet such as art or music. In addition to my psychedelic research and writing, I find that psychedelics give me the inspiration and ability to design and manufacture high tech audio/visual equipment, work as a performance artist, pursue several artistic hobbies, as well as hold a senior management position in the corporate world. Often people who do not go through personal change with psychedelics find that their experiences tend to stagnate and get into a repetitive groove. I've seen people successfully move through this stage by stopping for a while, pursuing other interests or means of self-exploration, then trying psychedelics again at a later date.
How often one can effectively use psychedelics varies from person to person. Users must monitor their own mind, body, and life, as well as listening to their friends and others around them to determine if they are overdoing it. Psychedelics are best enjoyed when the body and mind are in good health, properly nourished, exercised, and rested. Taking psychedelics when exhausted tends to produce more negative experiences. This can also lead to poor health since when the body is in a state of exhaustion, the main things it needs are nourishment and rest, and psychedelics disrupt the normal patterns of appetite and sleep. A small percentage of users "abuse" psychedelics by taking more than their psyche or body can integrate. However, I've only seen this occur with people using synthetic substances, such as ecstasy, Ketamine, and LSD.
Traditionally, the only people that use psychedelics on a "daily" basis are the shamans, curanderos, or folk doctors. They use these substances in the capacity of helping and healing the people in their communities. For the shaman the psychedelic experience is like a well, into which he can enter to bring back "healing water" and knowledge to cure people's physical ills, mental dilemmas, and societal problems. I doubt that individuals who are artists, inventors, or seekers of personal refinement or fun can effectively use and assimilate these experiences on as frequent a basis.
Psychedelics greatly amplify everything the user experiences. This intensity can feel like a nuclear bomb exploding inside the skull. And whether one is feeling brilliant joy or a fearful hell it's going to be felt intensely on a good dose of psychedelics.
Anyone who regularly uses psychedelics stronger than ecstasy can expect an occasional unpleasant experience. This can be much more unpleasant than anything experienced in regular life, just as the joy experienced on psychedelics can be much more intense than that of ordinary life. Even experienced trippers will occasionally have a bad experience. I've had several trips during which I thought I was dead, or could not tell whether I was alive or dead. If one uses psychedelics frequently they will eventually confront nearly all the skeletons buried within their psyche. One should approach these substances with a willingness to deal with whatever issues come up. How one integrates a frightening or dark experience is important. I generally find that I learn more from the unpleasant trips than I do from the average psychedelic session. One can use these experiences to re-evaluate their identity and ideas about life. If an unpleasant experience comes during a trip it's best to flow with it, try to learn from it, and move on to the next phase of the experience. There's no need to spend an entire psychedelic session wrapped up in one issue or feeling.
One of the most important things to remember during a trip is to flow with the experience. Don't try to hold on to your former identity as it is being dissolved. Don't be afraid of letting go of a beautiful feeling or vision if it starts to fade. If you're having a frightful experience don't run away from it, but look at it and see what you can learn. And when you recognize that you are starting to come down, don't rush to reclaim a familiar identity. Reflection and easing back to routine reality will allow you to retain more from your trip.
The psychedelic drugs differ significantly in intensity. The wiser users gradually move from the milder to the more intense. For each psychedelic I've assigned an intensity level from 1 to 10. (1 = mild, 10 = intense.) These intensity levels are for an average experience on the substance. A high dose of something like LSD can give one a level 10 intensity trip. And since the experience is in the mind, one can even have a high intensity trip with a small dose of a psychedelic.
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The following psychedelics are MAO inhibitors: 5-MeO-DMT & the Harmala Alkaloids. Many prescription anti-depressant drugs are also MAO inhibitors. These should not be taken in combination with the foods or drugs listed below.
Items Not To Take In Combination With MAO Inhibitors
Sedatives & Tranquilizers
Asarone / Calamus
Tryptophan - large doses
Tyrosine - large doses
Phenylalanine - large doses
Avocados (especially overripe)
Bananas (especially overripe)
Nutmeg - large doses
Oil of Dill - large doses
Oil of Parsley - large doses
Figs & Raisins
Prescription or Over-the-Counter Medicines & Supplements
Unless one is certain that these can be taken with MAO inhibitors they should discontinue use long enough for them to pass out of their system before taking the MAO inhibitor.
Ecstasy, Mescaline, 2C-B and other Phenethylamines
See discussion below.
The above information was obtained from several sources discussing MAO inhibitors.
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Ecstasy, Mescaline, 2C-B and other Phenethylamines - (Combined with MAO Inhibitors)
There is conflicting information on the compatibility of using phenethylamine drugs with MAO inhibitors. Several books list them as incompatible and dangerous, but with no explanation.
On the other extreme, I've heard many first hand reports from people who've used these combinations frequently and have had no problems.
Someone highly knowledgeable in this field told me that phenethylamine drugs are not broken down in one's system as quickly as normal if one has taken an MAO inhibitor. This results in a much smaller amount of the phenethylamine substance being required to achieve the same effects. This information corroborates with my limited experiments using 2C-B with an MAO inhibitor. I found the 2C-B to be significantly intensified in these situations, necessitating a high degree of caution when using combinations of this type.
In all chapters that deal with either phenethylamine substances or MAO inhibitors I have listed this combination as significantly intensified, possibly dangerous.
1 Maria Sabina, the shamaness who performed the ceremony for R. Gordon Wasson's first mushroom voyage, died of old age at 97, after some 67 years of regular mushroom use.
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