Psychedelics are the chameleons of the drug world—amenable to a variety of uses, dependent on the user’s attitude. The importance of set and setting cannot be overstated. If you use them as intoxicants, you will become intoxicated. If you want to see pretty shapes and colors and “trip out” to music, then they will act as sensory enhancers. If you want a new mode of consciousness that leads you to experience life in a novel way, they will satisfy that urge.
I maintain that there’s nothing wrong with any of these approaches. “Getting fucked up” is a completely legitimate reason to trip (though not the most productive one). There’s no need for self-described “serious” psychonauts to condescend to recreational users, decrying their use as disrespectful or idiotic. (See Sacredness is in the eye of the beholder for my detailed thoughts on that issue.) Everyone enjoys sovereignty over his or her own consciousness—this is the meaning of cognitive liberty.
But the fact remains: these psychedelics can go much deeper than recreation. Those who never choose to explore psychedelics more seriously than as intoxicants or sense-enhancers will miss out on their greatest potential. Why stop at pretty sounds and colors when these medicines can catalyze deep epiphanies and lasting change?
And psychedelics are very much agents of change. They can show you your shadow self, dragging your insecurities and internal conflicts into the light for examination. Or mediate a conversation, even a partnership, with the subconscious. They unseat your deepest assumptions and lead you to question the most rigid of habits and biases. Psychedelics are molecular battering rams, crumbling the castle called Ego and raising from the rubble a profound feeling of pure love and unity. They can introduce you to God, bridging for a time the seemingly unbridgeable gap between the human and divine spheres of existence. Perhaps more importantly (the blasphemy!) they introduce you to yourself. Your real self, defenses down, moat drained, drawbridge lowered. A trip may be the first time you have a free reign in your own mental kingdom. A molecule may be the truest mirror you ever held up to yourself.
Much of this potential is likely to pass the recreational user by. You often get what you ask for, and if your attitude does not predispose you to a therapeutic or spiritual trip, you are less likely to experience one. Of course, a user will sometimes stumble upon personal revelations quite by accident. Even the most stubborn eyes and minds can be opened, allowing some insights to filter in. Such is the power of these chemicals, and the human mind.
Leo Zeff, the underground psychedelic therapist profiled in The Secret Chief Revealed, believed that a trip’s value is in catalyzing personal growth. But those who approach the psychedelic experience with respect and intention will learn much more from their trips, and will be better prepared to integrate those lessons into their daily lives. As Leo Zeff, a pioneer of the underground psychedelic therapy movement, used to say, the quality of a trip is measured not by your experience that day, but how you grow in the subsequent months as a result. If we commit ourselves to being accountable to the insights received, then every trip can become a transformative event, a tool for self-improvement. The best kind of trip is one you grow from.
Casual trippers often overlook two important stages of tripping: preparation and integration. Without attending to these steps the user is unable to reach the pinnacle of a truly therapeutic trip and maximize the learning process. Lots of people don’t realize that psychedelics are a school—and like any school, you need to study and do your homework. I’ll elaborate on preparation and integration in future posts; they are terrific methods for making the most of the dose.
Myron Stolaroff, a researcher and advocate of psychedelic psychotherapy, describes how recreational use tends to taper off naturally:
The use of psychedelics is self-regulating in most cases. Their true purpose is to enhance growth and interior development. Used only for pleasure, or abused, the Inner Self is thwarted, which leads to unpleasant experiences and depression. Though everyone who pursues the use of psychedelics for personal growth must be prepared for the “dark night of the soul” experiences, those who seek only entertainment will lose interest in these substances.
Tripping for entertainment may lose its charm, but tripping for personal growth can lead the intrepid psychonaut to ever greater heights over years of directed use. Rewards increase as self-understanding deepens.
Transformation is the highest purpose we can set for ourselves when exploring consciousness. “Psyche-delic” means mind-revealing, and indeed, seeing oneself more completely may be the most psychedelic activity there is. I take Leo Zeff’s advice, measuring a trip’s true value by how much I grow from it afterwards. Heck, that’s a great way to rate any experience, psychedelic or not: how has it changed your life?
While I honor every individual’s right to choose how to explore consciousness, I encourage those of you who have never had the pleasure to try out the self-improvement approach. (This is not an admonition to take drugs, only a recommendation for harm reduction to those who already choose to trip.) If you trip, trip with intent. Set goals. Treat it with gravity and respect, like a therapeutic session. That’s what the psychedelic experience is: a deep and honest interview with yourself. Plan to dig deep and stay positive, committing yourself to confronting all conflicts and negative feelings as they arise.
Best of all, “tripping with intent” is not an alternative method so much as a complementary one. People use psychedelics for all sorts of reasons—to improve sex, deepen their connection with nature, channel the divine, explore their internal emotional landscape, and so on. A focus on self-improvement, with proper preparation, method, and post-trip integration, will help bring more meaning to all of these activities.
Besides, a LSD trip can last twelve hours, and shrooms is at least six. That’s plenty of time for a variety of activities and settings! My suggestion is, if you’re accustomed to recreational tripping, especially in a social setting, set aside some alone time on each trip for quiet introspection. Then ask yourself, what’s holding me back in life? How does my behavior compare to my goals and self-beliefs? What would I like to change about my life? Focus on self-growth before, during, and after the trip, and you will wind up with extraordinary lessons from the other side of the psychedelic frontier.
If you’re looking for more specific guidance about tripping for self-improvement, stay tuned! That’s the main goal of this blog—to awaken people to the highest potential of psychedelics, to help you make the most of the dose. In the meantime, you can read up on psychedelic psychotherapy and trip guides. Researchers like James Fadiman, Myron Stolaroff, Leo Zeff and others have shed some light on the best techniques for therapeutic tripping. You don’t need a psychology degree to gain insight from psychedelics; you just need to pay attention.
If you’ve experienced positive results from tripping with intent, share your experience with others! Give your “recreational” friends the opportunity to take tripping more seriously. Some people will resist, but others will be ecstatic that you opened their eyes to the higher potential of these chemicals. You never know; it just might change someone’s life.
Let me know in the comments—what have you learned from tripping? How has it changed your life?
A Final Note on Safety
As we repeatedly stress on HighExistence, psychedelics must be approached with reverence and caution. We believe that in a loving context, psychedelics are powerful medicines with tremendous potential, but there are a number of physical and psychological safety concerns that one should consider before journeying with psychedelics. Please, please do plenty of research, and do not take psychedelics if you have reason to believe that they will not jibe with your personality or particular mental baggage. The Essential Psychedelic Guide on Erowid is an exceptional free resource, and we recommend reading it, especially the section on ‘Psychedelic Safety,’ before ever dabbling in these substances. You should understand the risks, understand your reasons for experimenting and the benefits you hope to gain, and use the substances responsibly. Take care, and happy tripping. : )