Should I Try Psychedelics?

Steve Elfrink answers the question “Should I try Psychedelics?” by navigating the benefits and risks of psychedelics and emphasizing informed decision-making and preparation.

Overview: Steve Elfrink is a Psychedelic Somatic Interactional Therapist and Webdelics’ Subject Matter Expert. Steve’s editorial “Should I Try Psychedelics?” offers a balanced perspective on the potential benefits and risks of psychedelic substances, emphasizing the need for careful consideration and preparation. He discusses the scientific resurgence in psychedelic research, which points to significant therapeutic possibilities for mental health issues like depression and PTSD, through experiences that promote neuroplasticity and emotional breakthroughs. However, Elfrink also warns that psychedelics are not suitable for everyone, particularly those with a history of psychosis or complex PTSD, and stresses the importance of a supportive set and setting, professional guidance, and legal compliance. He advises those interested in exploring psychedelics to thoroughly research, consult with experts, and prepare meticulously to integrate the insights gained into everyday life.

Should I Try Psychedelics? A Compassionate Exploration

As I reflect on my personal psychedelic journey and those I have guided through various psychological terrains—ranging from profound vistas to challenging abysses—I have become deeply attuned to the complexities, variability, and nuances of human consciousness, as well as the influence of an individual’s early environment. We are intricate beings shaped by complex factors.

My aim here is not to advocate indiscriminately for the use of psychedelics, but to explore with care and empathy whether these substances might offer profound benefits and insights to those considering them. Psychedelics have resurfaced as a significant topic in scientific and therapeutic communities, and it is from this vantage point of lived experience and research that we discuss their potential role in personal and spiritual development.

The Renaissance of Psychedelic Research

Psychedelics have returned to the scientific spotlight, thanks largely to pioneering research institutions like Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Roland Griffiths, a leading figure in this field, describes the resurgence: “These substances allow us to explore human consciousness and could potentially revolutionize our understanding of mental health treatment.”

His studies, among others, suggest that psychedelics can facilitate experiences that lead to significant, sometimes life-altering insights and emotional breakthroughs. The therapeutic possibilities being unearthed range from treating depression to alleviating end-of-life anxiety.

Benefits: Healing, Growth, and Connection

The therapeutic potential of psychedelics is vast. Reports indicate that they can alleviate symptoms of mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD, often effecting a psychological ‘reset.’ This reset can lead to lasting reductions in symptoms, thanks to the profound experiences of personal insight these substances facilitate.

Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris of University of California, San Francisco, formerly of Imperial College London, explains, “Patients often describe experiences of profound connectedness and universal love, which can lead to durable improvements in their mental health.” His and others’ research suggests that psychedelics promote neuroplasticity, which involves changes in the structure and function of neurons and the activity and connectedness of certain brain networks.

These brain changes are thought to play an important role in the increased openness and improved mood that people often experience after a psychedelic trip 

Considerations: Not for Everyone

Despite their potential, psychedelics are not universally beneficial or appropriate. Their powerful effects can be unpredictable, and for individuals with a personal or family history of psychosis or complex PTSD, they might induce adverse reactions.  

Dr. Stanislav Grof, a psychiatrist with extensive experience in consciousness research, cautions, “While psychedelics can provide invaluable therapeutic benefits, they require careful screening and preparation, especially for those with certain psychological conditions.” This emphasizes the need for personalized assessments by trained professionals before considering their use, as well as a sober and honest approach to timing and substance selection.

AI-generated image inspired by Rodin's The Thinker, depicted holding a psychedelic mushroom, symbolizing deep contemplation and the exploration of consciousness.

The Importance of Set and Setting

The impact of a psychedelic experience is profoundly influenced by the individual’s mindset (‘set’) and the physical and social environment (‘setting’) in which it occurs.

Dr. Charles Grob, a researcher at UCLA and the first to conduct an FDA approved Phase 1 study of the effects of MDMA, emphasizes, “The therapeutic outcomes of psychedelics are greatly enhanced by a supportive setting, which can significantly influence the emotional tone of the experience.” This underscores the importance of careful planning and professional guidance in these experiences.

The Critical Role of Integration

Integration is the process of weaving the insights from a psychedelic experience into one’s daily life. It's a crucial phase where the true benefits of the experience can manifest in lasting changes.

Endowed Professor of Psychiatry and Neuroscience of Trauma, Dr. Rachel Yehuda, stresses, “Integration is essential for translating profound, often ineffable experiences into meaningful, sustainable change.” Techniques for effective integration include structured therapy sessions, creative expression, and participation in community support groups, each tailored to help individuals apply their insights constructively.

Unity Consciousness and Societal Impact

Many individuals report that their psychedelic experiences have not only transformed their personal lives but also their perspectives on social and environmental issues.

Dr. Matthew Johnson, another psychedelic researcher at Johns Hopkins, observes, “The experience of interconnectedness often leads to more altruistic behaviors.” This highlights the potential of psychedelics to contribute to societal healing and transformation.

Navigating the Path with Wisdom and Care

In deciding whether to explore the world of psychedelics, it is crucial to approach this decision with a blend of curiosity and caution.

These substances offer intriguing possibilities for profound self-discovery and therapeutic growth, but they are not suitable for everyone and should not be approached lightly. The potential of psychedelics to catalyze deep psychological transformation requires a respectful and well-informed approach.

For those drawn to this path, here are some concrete steps to follow:

  • Research Thoroughly: Educate yourself on the effects, benefits, and risks of psychedelic substances through academic journals, books, and reputable online resources. Knowledge is empowering.
  • Seek Professional Guidance: Before embarking on a psychedelic experience, consult healthcare professionals who specialize in psychedelic therapy for insights, suitability assessments, and safe guidance. Engage with your local psychedelic community for support.
  • Consider Your Personal Health: Evaluate your mental and physical health with a healthcare provider to ensure you are a suitable candidate for psychedelic use.
  • Prepare for the Experience: Ensure your ‘set and setting’—your mindset and the environment—are conducive to a safe and positive experience. This preparation includes fostering a framework of reverence for what you are about to encounter.
  • Plan for Integration: Anticipate how you will integrate the insights and revelations from your experience into your daily life through therapy, journaling, or community support.
  • Follow Legal Guidelines: Always abide by the legal status of psychedelics in your location to avoid legal complications.

By following these guidelines, you can approach psychedelics with the respect and seriousness they demand. Remember, the journey with psychedelics, like any profound exploration of self, is deeply personal and can be as challenging as it is rewarding.

May your exploration be guided by wisdom, supported by expert care, and lead to meaningful growth. As always, tread this path with an open heart and a mindful spirit, embracing the journey as much as the destination.

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