In the fall of 1996 issue of the Buddhist magazine
Tricycle, various teachers of Buddhist meditation practice commented on the
value of psychedelic experiences, with opinions of them ranging from helpful to
harmful. Here, the author hopes to explain these conflicting viewpoints by describing
important aspects of employing psychedelics that must be taken into account for
effective results. These embrace proper methodology, which includes set and
setting, dose levels, appropriate substances, appropriate intervals, and proper
integration of each experience. The author has found the informed use of
psychedelics to be a valuable tool in accelerating proficiency and deepening
meditative practice and offers recommendations for successful use. The adverse
comments of several recognized teachers are evaluated to shed further light on
fruitful application of psychedelic substances.
The Buddhist magazine Tricycle devoted its fall of 1996
issue to the topic of psychedelics and Buddhism. The viewpoints of the authors
regarding the efficacy of psychedelics on Buddhist practice ranged from a high
degree of support to outright opposition. Those who are interested in the
possible application of psychedelics to meditative practice might well be
puzzled by such a diversity of viewpoints. Yet, the answer is simple. Psychedelics
can be used in a great variety of ways for an enormous array of purposes. The results
depend greatly on the experience, knowledge, skill, and level of development of
the practitioner. Thus, the person presenting his and/or her own particular
point of view may or may not be aware of numerous other considerations
involved. Widespread unfavorable public bias toward psychedelics has been
created by very selective reporting by the media, as observed by Walsh (1982).
As Walsh reports, this bias is so unfavorable that a reputable journal refused
to accept an article that indicated some beneficial outcomes from the use of
psychedelics unless the reference to positive effects was removed. I hope to
shed some light on the diversity of viewpoints by first laying out what I
consider to be important factors to take into account in effectively employing
psychedelics. From this perspective, we can examine some of the more relevant
comments that have been expressed.
Psychedelic agents, when properly understood, are probably
one of the most valuable, useful, and powerful tools available to humanity.
Yet, their use is extremely complex, which means that they are widely
misunderstood and very olden abused.
Let me be clear: It is not psychedelics that are complex.
In their most useful application, they play a rather straightforward role.
After 40 years of careful study, it is my observation that one of the
outstanding actions of psychedelics is permitting the dissolving of mind sets.
One of the most powerful mind set humans employ is the hiding of undesirable
material from consciousness. Thus, a very important function of psychedelic
substances is to permit access to the unconscious mind. The unconscious mind is
enormously complex and possesses an extremely wide range of attributes, from
repressed, painful material to the sublime realization of universal love. We
probably shall never cease to discover new aspects and dimensions of the mind,
as it appears endless, and I am convinced that continual searching will reveal
new discoveries. Probably every hypothesis that any scientist, therapist, or
mystic has conceived ultimately can be observed to fit some set of conditions,
from psychological dynamics to the ultimate nature of the universe. One of the
most remarkable things to the experienced psychedelic user is discovering how
the boundaries of perception dissolve to permit viewing ever new images,
perceptions, concepts, and realizations. The biggest problem lies in
incorporating discoveries into meaningful, enhanced functioning in life.
Humans love structure, and at the same time, the ego loves
certainty, so a great variety of claims often are made about what psychedelics
can or cannot do. With integrity, commitment, and courage, vast aspects of the mind
can be explored. It is important to realize that what one experiences depends a
great deal on his/her value-belief system, motivation, conditioning, and
accumulated unconscious content, which includes the rigidity with which the
I am an early stage novice in my practice of Buddhism, so
there is a great deal about the subject of which I am ignorant. However, I have
had considerable experience with psychedelics, and my major concern is that there
will be attempts to categorize these potent aids and contain them within the
walls of narrow, judgmental decisions, thereby cutting off much potential
I personally have found that appropriately understood and
used, psychedelics can play a significant role in deepening and accelerating
the progress of one's meditative practice. This is not true for everyone. Psychedelics
are of little use for advanced practitioners who have learned to achieve
results without the benefit of such aids or for those who can free themselves
from worldly obligations for extensive daily practice. Also, encountering
heavily defended areas in the psyche with psychedelics may produce intense,
uncomfortable feelings that many may prefer to work through more gradually.
My concern is mostly for the large number of people who
could benefit from fruitful meditation practice but must still be occupied in
the world by earning a living and raising a family. Such persons lead busy
lives and may not have the time to devote to perfecting a practice that will
lead to significant freedom. For these, informed use of psychedelics can be
quite helpful in more rapidly reaching the level of accomplishment at which practice
becomes self-sustaining. The ultimate achievement of liberation must occur
through interior development that does not depend on the use of a plant or a
chemical, although these may help in discovering the way.
There are several key factors to consider in evaluating
whether the use of psychedelics can be personally fruitful.
1. Legal status. In a sense, this discussion is
hypothetical because now most psychedelics are illegal to possess in the United States.
Westerners for several centuries have focused primarily on the outer world,
with the resulting neglect of developing inner resources. This neglect, coupled
with a heavy emphasis on materialism and reductionism, has created a painful schism
between adopted conscious values and the deep interests of the Self. For most
people, it has become so painful to reveal this powerful conflict that those
substances that might accomplish this have been made illegal to possess. This
has not stopped many dedicated therapists and seekers who find that the value
of such substances exceeds the risk of incarceration. The illegal status also
creates the problem of finding pure substances in reliably known dose levels. I
am not advocating that anyone break the law, but I am pointing out the
importance of developing sound, rational policies that will permit appropriate
scientific evaluation of these substances and, ultimately, the realization of
2. Methodology. It is important that those who wish to
work with psychedelics be fully informed of appropriate procedures.
Unfortunately, the illegal status of psychedelics has prevented the publication
and sharing of results and effective practices. However, there is available a great
deal of information to guide the serious seeker if one has the diligence to
seek it out. Some excellent examples of appropriate procedures can be found in
the following references.
Grofs (1980) book, LSD Psychotherapy, is a treasure house
of good information. See in particular the sections Psychedelic Therapy With
LSD (pp. 32-38), Personality of the Subject (pp. 52-64), Personality of the Therapist
or Guide (pp. 89-107), and Set and Setting of the Sessions (pp.108-116).
In Adamson and Metzner (1988), much attention is given to
guidelines, preparation, set and setting.
The pamphlet, Code of Ethics for Spiritual Guides, was
prepared by the Council on Spiritual Practices, which can be contacted at the
following address: Box 460065,
San Francisco, CA
Finally, Stolaroff (1993) presents a brief summary of
important factors to take into account.
3. Low doses. Many who have experimented with psychedelics
have used high doses of substance to assure penetration into the very rewarding
transpersonal levels of experience. Such experiences can be awesome, compelling,
and extremely rewarding. Yet, it is often the case that these experiences fade
away in time unless there are diligent efforts to make the changes indicated.
In profound experiences, the layers of conditioning that, in ordinary states,
hold one away from liberation are transcended and from the lofty view of the
transcendental state, personal conditioning seems unimportant and often
unrecognized. Yet after the experience, old habits and patterns reestablish
themselves and often there is no alteration in behavior. The use of low doses
often can be much more effective in dealing with our "psychic
garbage." Many do not care for low doses because they can stir up
uncomfortable feelings, and they prefer to transcend them by pushing on into
higher states, but it is precisely these uncomfortable feelings that must be
resolved to achieve true freedom. With low doses, by focusing directly on the
feelings and staying with them without aversion and without grasping, they will
in time dissipate. Resolving one's repressed feelings in this manner clears the
inner being, permitting the True Self to manifest more steadily. Such a result
provides greater energy, deeper peace, more perceptive awareness, greater
clarity, keener intuition, and greater compassion. It permits the deepening of
one's meditation practice. The surfacing of buried feelings that this procedure
permits often can bring new understanding of one's personality dynamics.
4. Different compounds. Some compounds may be more
suitable for developing meditation practice than are others. I personally have
had substantial experience with the phenethylamines, outstanding examples of
which are 2C-T-2, 2C-T-7, and 2C-B (code names for 2,5-dimethoxy-4-(ethylthio) phenethylamine,
2,5-dimethoxy-4-(n-propylthio) phenethylamine, and 4-bromo-2,5d-imethoxyphenethylamine,
respectively). The synthetic procedures and physical characteristics of all of
these compounds are published in Shulgin and Shulgin (1991). These compounds
have the characteristic of having some of the centering qualities of MDMA, yet
being more LSD-like than is MDMA without the powerful push of LSD. This lowers the
likelihood of the user being trapped in deep pools of repressed material. Not
being as pushy as LSD, these compounds require developing volition to achieve
similar levels of experience. This is the same kind of volition that develops
good meditation practice. Consequently, it is easier to focus attention under
their influence, which permits developing the attributes for good meditation
practice. As one develops proficiency in entering the desired state, it is
found that the advantage of one compound over another diminishes. The
appropriate dose (found by experiment--generally equivalent to 25-50 micrograms
of LSD) of most any long-acting psychedelic is helpful.
5. Freeing deeply occluded areas. The practice of Buddhism
in general, as I understand it, is not necessarily therapeutically oriented.
There is much advice in older texts to resolve personal problems with focused
attention and application of intention to change behavior. The result is that
much unconscious material never gets resolved despite the ability of the mind
to achieve high levels of awareness. For a discussion of the difference between
meditative realization and the uncovering process achieved through psychotherapy,
see Wilber (1993, pp. 196-198). Psychedelics facilitate reaching these deeper,
often highly defended levels and clearing them out, thus permitting greater
liberation and dropping of undesirable personality and behavior patterns. Some
powerfully repressed areas, such as the very painful birth experience I
underwent in my first LSD session (Stolaroff, 1994), might never be resolved
without the help of psychedelics.
6. Judicious spacing of psychedelic experiences. In my own
practice, I intentionally have limited my early morning formal meditation
session to an hour so as to leave ample time for worldly endeavors. Thus,
whatever I discover will be more applicable for the large numbers of persons constrained
by the need or desire to function in the world. Although I have advanced
sufficiently in my practice to fend off some of the typical aging symptoms (I
am 77 years old) such as loss of energy, stiff and sore muscles, and increased
arthritic symptoms, I do find that after a while, I begin to acquire such
symptoms. When this happens, an appropriate psychedelic experience is a very
effective rejuvenator. Aging symptoms summarily are dissipated, I am in a much
more enjoyable and effective state of being, and I find it easier to remain in
this state through my regular meditation practice. Also, if there are deep,
underlying, unconscious dynamics that are a drag on life, as I have experienced
much of my life, I find it especially helpful to resolve such deep patterns
with psychedelics. The psychedelic experience provides extremely effective
clearing and a quantum jump improvement in well-being and meditative
proficiency. At the same time, it is important not simply to rely on another
experience to overcome difficulties. Numerous times I have discovered that
mustering a deeper degree of intent can resolve important restrictions through
properly focused meditation practice, with the advantage of a more permanent and
satisfying state of well-being. Such work also ensures that when an additional
experience is found to be appropriate, it will be considerably more rewarding.
7. Honoring the experience. A very important aspect of
employing psychedelics is to acknowledge fully the graces that have been
received. This is done through appreciation and gratitude, which are best
expressed by determinedly putting into effect in one's life the changes that
have been indicated. In fact, failure to do so can contribute to subsequent depression.
Thoroughly honoring the experience and postponing further psychedelic
exploration until a real need is determined that cannot be resolved in
straightforward meditation practice ensures that the next experience will be
fruitful. One of the fairly widespread abuses of psychedelics is to rely on
repeated use of the drug to accomplish relief from discomfort instead of
exerting the effort to make changes in one's behavior that have already been
indicated. This is the most frequent objection to psychedelics raised by the
contributors to Tricycle (1996).
8. Historical precedence. Psychedelics have had extensive
use in spiritual practices in numerous cultures around the world and
encompassing some 2,000 years of history. Current legally sanctioned spiritual
practices with psychedelics include the Native American Indian church in North
America, based on the use of peyote, and the Santo Daime and Uniao do Vegetal churches
employing ayahuasca. Robert Jesse (1996) briefly reviews the history of such
usage and describes a number of the substances most widely employed--peyote,
mushrooms, ayahuasca, soma, keykeon, iboga, cannabis, LSD, and MDMA.
USING PSYCHEDELICS IN
Since the passage of the Controlled Substance Analogue
Enforcement Act of 1986, almost all psychedelic substances have been outlawed.
As a consequence, it has not been possible to conduct legally any research
since that time. The following suggestions are based on the limited amount of experience
that has been garnered, most of which is personal, and indicate where future
research can be gainfully directed.
1. Ethical framework. Committing oneself to a suitable
ethical framework, such as the Buddhist eight-fold path, is essential. This is
an important part of the mental set and also provides help in integrating
2. Preparation. The participant should have a thorough
understanding of psychedelics including the types of experience that may be
expected, factors affecting experience, how to handle various kinds of
experiences and how to follow them up, and the importance of set and setting as
described above. It is important to have first undergone a high-dose experience
with a qualified guide that has resulted in reaching transpersonal levels. This
will put the entire process into perspective.
3. Employing a correct substance at the proper dose level.
4. Developing mental stability. This application is
probably the most fruitful for employing psychedelic substances. A practice
focusing on the breath is particularly appropriate. With proper substance and
dose, one will note several possible developments. First, distractions may be
more intense than in ordinary practice because the action of the chemical releases
more material from the unconscious. At the same time, the enhanced awareness
resulting from the action of the psychedelic allows one to notice in greater
detail how various attitudes, thoughts, and actions affect the ability to hold
one's focus steady. From this, one learns to hold the mind in the position of
maximum effectiveness for becoming free of distractions and for holding mental
focus stable. One then experiences the deepening of the practice, more readily
avoiding distractions and moving into areas of peace, calm, and growing
euphoria. With continuing practice, one finds it easier to enter the numinous
levels that one ultimately is seeking. Furthermore, the volition gained in
developing this practice under the influence of a psychedelic carries on into
day-to-day practice during which the same level of achievement becomes
accessible. The outcome that I personally have found most satisfying is the
ability to hold the mind perfectly still, a state that makes access to
previously unrevealed regions of the mind available, including the direct
contact with one's essence or dimity.
5. Deepening the meditation practice. One's daily practice
may be strengthened by using the discoveries made under the influence of psychedelics.
I recommend working to obtain maximum benefit from one psychedelic experience
before proceeding with another. When experiences are spaced judiciously in this
manner, one learns under the influence to go deeper into the contact with the
numinous. As the ability to hold the mind steady grows, it becomes possible to
focus more directly on the contact with the inner teacher--our deepest Self,
our Buddha nature, or however one chooses to call the wise, guiding entity
within us. Maintaining this focus leads to what seems to me to be the most
valuable, fulfilling experiences possible. From such experiences, combined with
daily practice, grows the ability to achieve similar results in ordinary
practice, until eventually the use of the psychedelic substance is no longer
required. At this point, the faculty for achieving optimum results has been
developed within us. I like to call this "developing a God muscle."
Many of the issues concerning the application of
psychedelics in meditative practice may be clarified further by examining some
of the comments reported in the Tricycle issue on Psychedelics (Tricycle,
1996). Jack Kornfield (1996) presents a knowledgeable and well-balanced view of
the use of psychedelics as well as important factors required for a good
meditative practice and spiritual development. He points out the value that psychedelics
have in introducing persons to new areas of the mind and even to glimpses of
the goal of spiritual realization, experiences which encouraged many to develop
a more disciplined practice. He also clearly points out a common failing among
many psychedelic users: failure to understand the depth of change required to
transform oneself and to understand that it takes more than repeated
psychedelic experiences to accomplish this.
Next, I will present some responses to Michelle
McDonald-Smith's (1996) firmly expressed views. From my experience, no matter
what kind of deep opening one might have on a drug, it isn't going to develop
one's ability to have those experiences naturally. Other people might say that
drugs are a doorway, but I don't see them developing anything. They don't
develop equanimity, they don't develop concentration, they don't develop any
factors of enlightenment. (p. 67)
In sharing my own perceptions on the same factors she has
enumerated, I wish it to be clear that I am discussing the results of informed
used, which has been delineated elsewhere in this article. I agree that
psychedelics alone will not necessarily develop the ability to have
transpersonal experiences naturally, despite the fact that many people who have
had such an outstanding initial experience are content to never have another,
feeling that they have been blessed for life. I maintain that psychedelics are
way showers, and we then must work with serious intent to attain the states
that are shown to be possible. Nevertheless, it is of enormous benefit and
inspiration if one can glimpse and experience firsthand the territory to which
we aspire. Norbert Wiener, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientist
who suggested the binary system on which the operation of computers is based,
commented on the successful development of the atomic bomb by the Russians. He
stated that their simply knowing that it is possible was at least 50% of the
battle. But psychedelics can do far more than simply show what is possible.
They permit the recognition and resolution of powerfully repressed material in the
unconscious that interferes with contacting our essence or Buddha nature. They
can reveal dramatically the errors in our behavior and perceptions, which are
generating uncomfortable feelings and inappropriate responses, and can show how
such errors can be corrected. When we have fallen back so far so that we are
losing energy and motivation, they can refresh us, invigorate us, and renew our
inspiration and determination.
In contrast to McDonald-Smith's (1996) claim, "I
don't see them as developing anything" (p. 67), I see them as developing
wisdom, heightened perception, self-understanding, energy, and freedom;
releasing habitual blocks that interfere with the total response of our senses;
facilitating the flow of ideas; releasing intuition and creativity as
unconscious blocks are removed and as we become in touch with our inherent
faculties; and deepening our meditation practice. My observations are based on
some 40 years of research, including observing more than 100 individuals.
Regarding the comments about equanimity, concentration,
and enlightenment, I find that appropriate use of psychedelics helps develop
all of these qualities. I never realized what equanimity was until I began
taking psychedelics. One of the great gifts of psychedelics is permitting one
to learn real concentration. Of course, if there is much repressed material in the
unconscious and one takes a significant dose of a psychedelic, it is neither
possible nor desirable to try to concentrate. It is best to simply surrender to
the experience and to let the flow of imagery and feelings proceed undisturbed.
In this flow, unconscious material is released. The meditation equivalent is
focusing on the breath or on an object and simply letting thoughts and feelings
flow without getting involved. When the high-pressure feelings in the
unconscious demanding release begin to abate, then it becomes possible to
concentrate on the desired object. The practice of holding one's attention
steadily on an image, concept, or object under the influence of a good
psychedelic permits many aspects of the object of attention to unfold, so that
one may learn a great deal of new information about the object as well as
discover unsuspected beauty and meaning and experience appreciation.
Eventually, one develops concentration sufficient to hold the mind quite still,
which permits other aspects of reality to manifest. I often feel that this is
creating the empty space to permit God to enter, which I consider a major
factor of enlightenment. In practicing holding the mind steady under a low dose
or a psychedelic, one becomes much more aware of the subtle distractions and
urges that affect concentration. Some distractions are more intense, so one can
practice maintaining stability in spite of them. Such practice under the
influence helps strengthen the faculty that maintains steady attention. A great
deal can be accomplished in learning to effectively maintain stability,
learning which is immediately applicable in subsequent practice.
McDonald-Smith (1996) stated:
Drugs take a considerable toll on the body and the mind.
They bring all this energy into the system so that it catapults you into a
different state of consciousness at the same time that it taxes your body,
mind, and heart. You get a sort of beatific view, but actually you are further
down the mountain. (p. 67)
My associates and I, in psychedelic research, find
ourselves very much at odds with this statement. Yes, if a person is carrying
heavy psychic burdens and takes a large psychedelic dose, he or she can be very
tired at the end of the day and perhaps for a few days after. But often this is
followed by a gratifying sense of rejuvenation and appreciation for the benefits
realized. Important exceptions are the cases in which the participant does not
work all the way through important problem areas, leaving them with a feeling
of unfinished business and perhaps even greater discomfort because he or she is
now experiencing uncomfortable feelings that formerly were locked safely away.
Working through these feelings with the help of a good counselor and following
up with subsequent psychedelic sessions can clear up this problem.
Rather than toll, there is healing and rejuvenation. One often
feels that he or she has dropped a heavy load off the body, and his or her
spirits are high. A heavier mind can come from the unresolved situation
described above; otherwise, there is lightness of feeling and clarity of mind.
Other than toll, there is renewal. I have friends who take many different kinds
of vitamins and nutriments to achieve healthy states of mind and body and to
have more energy. I try their various recommendations, but my experience is
that none of them work as well as a good, appropriate psychedelic session.
Rather than being brought further down, you are climbing the mountain with
considerable help. It is very true, however, that to maintain the high states
experienced, it takes committed effort to make the necessary changes in day-to-day
life. This point is frequently neglected. My experience is that not expressing
appropriate gratitude and appreciation for the marvelous graces that have been
granted can lead to self-hatred and depression. A good meditation practice is
an effective means of maintaining awareness of the needed changes and
furnishing the energy and motivation to make them possible.
McDonald-Smith (1996) also stated: I've had people come to retreats who've done a lot of
drugs, and it seems like they don't have the energy to access subtle stages of
insight. They've blown it off with drugs. You pay a price for any drug
experience. (p. 69)
It is true that many have abused psychedelics by frequent
use, probably of high doses, with insufficient effort to integrate the meaning
of the experience. Frequent repetition can dissolve ego strength, and such
people can develop rambling minds and have little ability to focus. However, it
is important to understand that this is the result of abuse, which is not the case
with informed use. You do not "pay a price for any drug experience." Appropriately
used, psychedelic experiences not only have little or no price, but also open
the door to healing, rejuvenation, and many riches in life.
McDonald-Smith (1996) says: "On the deepest level of
letting go, drugs get in the way. This is especially true for those who are
heavily armored" (p. 69). I say that appropriate use of psychedelics
teaches you to let go and discover the rewarding benefits of letting go. We are
all afraid of the unknown; psychedelics can help one develop trust, face fear,
and enter unknown and sublime arenas. Psychedelics are especially helpful for
the heavily armored, if they truly wish to resolve their difficulties, as they can
help dissolve the heavy walls of defensiveness and permit resolution and
A major emphasis in the remainder of McDonald-Smith's
(1996) article is that "drugs promote attachment to peak experience...
what you actually get from drug experience is the desire to take the drugs
again" (p. 70). Many have fallen into this trap, but it is an
overstatement to generalize that this is always the case. With an honest
approach, one realizes that there is work to do before seeking another session.
My own experience is that for many of us, particularly with me for many years,
our self-esteem is so low that we feel that we do not deserve the full benefits
of grace. I have found that extensive help is waiting in many different forms
and from many different levels and is generously offered. We can always benefit
from taking advantage of help in whatever mode, be it teachers, nutriments, reading,
exercise, prayer, or simply thinking good thoughts. And they can all work
together and support each other. Appreciation and gratitude multiply the
benefits. And one certainly cannot argue with McDonald-Smith's advice to be
completely aware in each moment.
Allan Hunt Badiner (1996) has written in Tricycle an
impressive description of an extremely powerful, remarkable, life-changing
experience with yage. His experience probably represents the far extremes of
intensity, variety, complexity, and meaning that psychedelics have to offer.
Badiner is to be highly congratulated for both his courage and his power of
articulation in encountering and describing this compelling experience. There
are probably not a great many persons prepared to make such an encounter, but
the outcome of Allan's experience is testimony to the advice given by many sages
that the encountering of pain and suffering, and even of near death itself, paves
the way to becoming utterly alive.
Nina Wise (1996), in her article in Tricycle, tells a
beautiful story of personal growth and development with the aid of
psychedelics, excellent teachers, and dedicated practice. With her first
psychedelic experience, she encounters a trauma often encountered by
inexperienced explorers. She has a glorious, very opening experience, yet sinks
into deep depression because she does not know how to integrate the experience
to maintain such a state. She finds a meditation teacher and begins to grow in
her practice. A subsequent experience with ayahuasca provides another important
opening that has very meaningful consequences in her life. Later, with the help
of good meditation teachers, she reaches the peace and equanimity she has been searching
for and is no longer attracted to the aid offered by psychedelics. She has
reached the state of realization for which most of us long.
One hardly could hope for a better outcome than that which
Nina Wise presents to us. Yet, her story does provide the opportunity to
include some additional remarks about the use of psychedelics. Her first
experience points out the need, as almost all the knowledgeable writers in the Tricycle
(1996) issue have clearly stated, to have a framework and discipline within
which to have the experience and, particularly, to help follow up the
experience for optimum benefit. Her second experience with ayahuasca
illustrated that at an appropriate time, a further experience can be quite
There were characteristics about her psychedelic journeys
that she was quite happy to leave behind her and not engage again. Wise's
(1996) words are, "My psychedelic experiences, which had brought me to
this place, were now interfering with my vision" (p. 93). It is important
to understand that psychedelics, when properly employed, can lead to the same
state she had achieved of direct experience of reality. It is the state reached
by what! call the trained user. It helps to know that the creepy visions, the hallucinations,
and the constant flow of imagery are the results of pressures in the
unconscious where repressed material is demanding release. By employing low
psychedelic doses, it is possible to confront and deal with these images and,
particularly, the feelings behind them, until they clear up. Then one reaches,
while under the influence, the stage of immediate perception (Sherwood,
Stolaroff, & Harman, 1962). "In this stage, the psychosomatic
symptoms, the model psychoses, the multicolored hallucinatory images tend to disappear.
The individual develops an awareness of other aspects of reality than those to
which he is accustomed" (p. 71). The fact that a psychedelic produces
streams of imagery indicates that the interior barriers to the center core of
the self have not been completely eliminated. For those who wish to be
completely liberated, psychedelic experiences, properly timed and integrated,
can be very helpful in resolving repressed material and defensive blocks, thus
giving freer access to the divine within.
Trudy Walter (1996) has given us a touching story of the
difficulties of addiction and the hardship of breaking it. For years, she took
respite and enjoyment in "getting stoned," and it was only through
dedicated commitment to her meditation practice that she could free herself
from her addiction. No matter how enjoyable or helpful an aid can be,
eventually, as stated so clearly by Frances Vaughan (1995), these "golden
chains" must be transcended to develop the capabilities of our true inner
Robert Aitken (1996) states: "I don't think drugs
have particularly helped anybody arrive where they are" (p. 105). This is
most definitely not true for me and many others whom I know. I very much agree
with his observation that many desperately are trying to achieve realization
through the drug experience when what is required is hard work in changing
their attitudes, values, and behavior--a process facilitated much more
effectively through deepened intention and improved behavior than through
overuse of psychedelic chemicals.
Aitken (1996) offers evidence that being under the
influence and then later trying to practice does not work. This has been
commented on by other teachers, and I am sure that it is true for many.
However, the situation is quite complex, and care is required to evaluate such
generalizations. A great deal can be learned about how to use psychedelics
appropriately to enhance and deepen practice. It requires looking at a number
of considerations. What is the substance, the dose level, the frequency, the intention,
and the effort to make maximum use of the experience, regardless of whether it
was pleasant or uncomfortable, or the effort to deal with indicated changes in
values and actions? With agents as powerful as psychedelics and the vast
regions of the human mind made available, it seems quite shortsighted to draw
conclusions before thorough investigative efforts have been pursued. And of
course, with the current legal status, one dare not publish or publicly share
results, so that it is most likely that there exists a great deal of valuable
experience that remains hidden from the public eye.
It is my experience that practice with an appropriate,
moderate dose of a psychedelic permits deepening of the meditation practice and
learning much more rapidly to avoid distractions and concentrate on the
important aspects of the practice. Because of our unfortunate drug laws, it has
not been possible to replicate my findings on a broad basis, although
preliminary trials with others support my own experience and the validity of my
hypothesis. I am sure that we must find ways to verify procedures that offer
such promising accomplishments.
Aitken (1996) observes that those who returned to a
retreat from psychedelic experiences demonstrated a deterioration in their ability
to meditate. I personally deem it unwise to muddle the opportunity to learn what
a retreat has to offer by interspersing drug experiences.
Aitken (1996) is certainly right to raise the question,
what after the experience? There is now almost universal consensus that being
shown the territory is not enough. It is extremely important to consummate the experience
by bringing it to full fruition in day-to-day life. Commitment to an ethical
way of life, supported by a good meditation practice that enhances stability
and clarity, is one of the best ways to ensure this accomplishment.
Aitken (1996) again says that you do not have to take
drugs to wake up to reality. This is certainly true, and a great many will
choose the meditative path. But for many others, the appropriate use of
psychedelics can rapidly hasten the discovery of reality and, furthermore, can
help reveal the inner blocks that hold one from reality and even temporarily dissolve
them, so that one develops a clear picture of how to stay in touch with
reality. Without psychedelics, it can take many, many months of hard work to
obtain the same vision, and after the vision is obtained, there may still be
repressed inner psychic loads that can inhibit freedom, suppress the experience
of one's feelings and senses to the fullest, and preclude living constantly out
of one's essence or Buddha nature.
There no doubt are many who have turned away from
psychedelics because of unsatisfactory experiences. Although psychedelics are
not a path for everyone, it is possible to cultivate more favorable outcomes
with a better understanding of the nature of the experience, the possible
varieties of dynamics that can arise, and how to deal with them. Those who
confront and resolve negative experiences can come out with a good deal more understanding
and relief from psychic burdens, which can result in greater energy and
Aitken (1996) states "that there is a qualitative
difference between the ecstasy that some people report from their drug
experiences and the understanding, the realization, that comes with Zen
practice" (p. 109). I am not familiar with Zen practice, and so I may be
in no position to comment, as Aitken likewise may not be in a position to
comment on the ecstatic experience some achieve through psychedelics. But I do
know from firsthand experience that it is possible to experience ecstasy almost
beyond what the human frame can stand, and if Zen practitioners reach this state,
power to them.
Joan Halifax (1996) clearly understands a great deal about
psychedelics and what they can do and, at the same time, has developed her
practice to a point at which psychedelics are no longer necessary. In her
description of outgrowing the need for psychedelics, she states that the
qualities of stability, loving-kindness, clarity, and humbleness are the
primary qualities of the mind cultivated in meditation. She further states that
such qualities are not necessarily cultivated by psychedelics. This statement
is certainly true for some users who have been deceived and even become
burdensome know-it-alls through their psychedelic use. I personally have found
that psychedelics have been powerful influences in developing all the qualities
mentions. I already have commented that the appropriate mixture of meditation
and psychedelics can influence strongly the effectiveness of each practice.
I very much am encouraged by the positive results I have
observed during several decades of investigation. I find psychedelics to have
significant potential not only in aiding the development of meditation
practice, but also in many other important areas. Unfortunately, this
perspective is not generally shared, and the controversy over psychedelics
continues to be one of the major scientific disputes of recent history.
A number of excellent articles have been published
examining this controversy and/or providing additional information for better understanding
psychedelics. Clark (1975) presents an
insightful article based on 100 respondents to a questionnaire study to assess views
on promising areas of psychedelic research, the extent of the promise, and the difficulties
in conducting research. A strong recommendation is made for opening up and
funding psychedelic research. Villoldo (1977) describes the work of Salvador
Roquet, who developed very intense methods of conducting group psychedelic
sessions with powerful impact, perhaps the most intensely focused procedure yet
evolved. Many important aspects of successfully employing psychedelics in
therapy are discussed. Klavetter and Mogar (1967) make a questionnaire analysis
of participants completing the psychedelic program at the International
Foundation for Advanced Study in Menlo Park and convert the data into peakers
and nonpeakers following Maslow's (1962) definitions. Peakers consistently
report significant therapeutic benefit following the LSD session, a result
confirmed by Hoffer (1965) and Pahnke and Richards (1966). Stolaroff (1997)
presents an in-depth interview with one of the most accomplished psychedelic
therapists of our time, now deceased and unnamed because of our current drug
laws. This book covers the successful development of both individual and group
experiences, selecting the most effective of a variety of psychedelic
substances, and the optimum progression of their application.
Baumeister and Placidi (1983) present a fairly complete
review of the LSD controversy, citing interesting and insightful reasons for
the positions taken. Kurtz (1963) presents a cogent comparison of religious
mystical experience, nature mystical experiences, Maslow's (1962) peak
experiences, and drug-induced experiences. His analysis provides conclusions
that the drug experiences of unity, when they occur, are the most inclusive and
comprehensive in including all aspects of reality and the totality of human consciousness,
combining intellectual, sensory, and mystical aspects occurring simultaneously.
Mogar (1965) provides an excellent review paper, pointing out the growing
trends in psychiatry and psychology and the growing acceptance of a wider range
of human capacities and functions as revealed through altered states of
consciousness produced by a variety of means. An excellent summary of results
obtained in psychedelic research is presented.
Harman (1963) presents probably the most informed review
of the psychedelic drug controversy, recognizing the root of the controversy in
basic metaphysical assumptions, carefully describing the character of
psychedelic experiences and the factors that influence them, comparing the
highest potential of such experiences with natural mystical experiences,
presenting the data assuring safety in proper hands, analyzing the resistance
to accepting psychedelic research despite the publishing of positive results, and
recommending proceeding with important research. The most recent information at
this writing comes from Shulgin and Shulgin (1997), which covers a wide variety
of interesting topics. Pertinent to this discussion are presentations on the
nature and variety of psychedelic experiences and the growing appropriation of
power by government to prescribe medical practice and scientific research (see,
particularly, Part 2: Psychedelics and Personal Transformation, and Part 5:
Drugs and Politics).
Although the articles discussed above contribute much
important information, they still fall short in recognizing one of the most
crucial aspects of psychedelic use. Most observers still lean toward the
allopathic medical perception of drugs, in which the results are attributed to
the particular action of the drug in the body. In the case of psychedelics, what
transpires depends far more on the characteristics of the participant ingesting
the drug and the circumstances of its use. It does not seem to be recognized
generally that an individual can, with time and repetition, learn increasingly
how to make more effective use of the opportunities psychedelics afford. It is
possible to develop the characteristics of the trained user as previously
described, when the mind can be held perfectly still so as to reveal other aspects
of reality. With continued practice, the aspiring seeker increasingly learns
how to focus the experience, learn trust, and develop motivation and courage
for deeper exploration. This practice will yield deeper and deeper penetration
into unknown areas of existence, with the possibility of bringing back ever new
I therefore hope that Buddhists and others will approach
these substances with an open mind and, as a minimum, not stand in the way of
efforts to learn more about them and the most appropriate ways of employing
AUTHOR'S NOTE: The author wishes to express his
appreciation to the management and editors of Tricycle for their special issue
on psychedelics and to all the contributors for their willingness to present
their views on a controversial subject.
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Reprint requests: Myron J. Stolaroff, P. O. Box 742, Lone Pine, CA 93545; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Journal of Humanistic
Psychology, Vol. 39 No. 1 Winter 1999, Pp. 60-80
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of Humanistic Psychology