If you?re interested in research-supported, expert information on psychedelics, check out the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedlic Studies.
If you?re interested in an amusing anecdotal account of one therapist?s DMT trip to Hell, read on.
Photo Cred: Brandon Slyke
Let me start by saying I?m known amongst my friends as the one who ?doesn?t do drugs.? This has nothing to do with morality ? it?s more fear, sensitive neurochemistry, and a baseline state that most people assume is already altered that keeps me content with tequila-sodas. I?ve never touched coke or MDMA, and my weed-smoking was largely limited to a three-year period dating my third love?that is, until he got frustrated with the existential questions I?d ask while high (also while sober) and left me for someone less confused about the nature of reality. Anyway, I?m from BC so does weed really even count??!
The two exceptions to Controlled-Substances-Only Meg include mushrooms in Paris over a decade ago while traversing Europe post-college and, a few weeks ago, DMT at a castle just north of Paris.
Some go to France for the food, wine, and culture. I guess I go to hallucinate.
If you?re not familiar with DMT, it means you?re not spiritually #woke. I kid. It actually probably means you?re content with your life, or you haven?t been around enough Burners. I suggest you move to New York; here, there?s a surplus of death anxiety and spiritual bypassing ? both of which are conducive to psychedelia.
DMT, or N,N-Dimethyltryptamine, is one of the most powerful psychedelic drugs we know of. Researchers speculate it?s the chemical we release when we dream, and potentially right before we die. It?s also the compound in Ayahuasca, which will be my next adventure (stay tuned). Known as ?The Spirit Molecule,? DMT is notorious for facilitating near-death, out-of-body, and god-like trips. These experiences tend to be either deeply unappealing or deeply appealing to the average person. Unsurprisingly, I am the latter.
As a therapist, I strongly recommend in-depth-research and consulting a professional before experimenting with psychedelics. Do not do what I did, which was listen to a Joe Rogan podcast and commit to doing DMT the next time the opportunity arose.
You see, I?d wanted to do Ayahuasca for some time but was unexcited about potential travel and certain vomiting; so DMT seemed like the an efficient, purging-free induction. And since I frequently spout off about the benefits of edging our comfort zones, I tend to hurl myself out of mine in the name of spiritual growth.
Some go to France for the food, wine, and culture. I guess I go to hallucinate.
This all to say that when I was invited to a Burning Man-meets-Summit cryptocurrency ?unconference? at a castle in France, I thought, Oh Helllllll no. And because of that reaction, I decided I should probably go.
Less than a week and a budget red-eye later, a fellow conference-attendee (with whom I had a pre-existing Facebook friendship of a whopping 7 minutes) kindly picked me up from the airport to transport me to this gathering of the costumed and unclothed. After two miles of formalities, psychedelics came up (as they do), and I mentioned my desire to try DMT.
?Well it just so happens I brought DMT with me,? my new friend (but let?s be real: #TheUniverse) revealed. I took this as a sign and enthusiastically overcommitted, before my prefrontal cortex (bless it) expressed resistance at the thought of being ?rocket-launched to another dimension? in the words of Joe. However, my new friend reassured me: ?Don?t worry, I?ve figured out the exact dosage you need to simply feel a general sense of euphoria and, at most notice the trees are glowing a bit.? He motioned to the trees lining the roadside, which already appeared to be glowing because that?s what happens when you choose to live in Manhattan and willingly deprive yourself of nature for months on end (and savings, and a relationship).
In comparison to my memory of my mushroom trip, in which I felt my body uncomfortably inflate like a beach ball and begin rolling in space, this one sounded pleasant ? reminiscent of when I got contact lenses and noticed grass had edges, confirming my constructivist views of subjective reality. Sounds chill, I thought.
Scene-change to three hours later, as I?m having a full-blown panic attack in what can only be interpreted as Hell, and a dude I?d been seeing for the past month or so transforms into Satan (cough foreshadowing cough) before his head casually falls off (for clarity, dude shall be dubbed Doomed Situationship from here forward).
Now rewind to six minutes earlier: DMT-toting chauffeur, Doomed Situationship and I occupy a Secret Garden-style bench, nestled between layers of olive and emerald foliage and looking onto an aged Juniper. I wonder how old this bench is ? how many others before me have chosen this same picturesque spot to get fucked up. Er. I mean journey.
After providing words of calming and reassurance, DMT Chauffeur coaches me through the administration process: ?Okay, here?s what you do? he explains in a ?this is serious? voice, as he hands me a vaporizer with a silicon tube attached. ?Hold down the button for half a second. Start inhaling. Keep the button held down and inhale for two seconds. After two seconds, let go of the button but keep inhaling for half a second so you get some oxygen in there as well. Hold it in for two seconds, exhale, and you?ll have the perfect high.?
I stare at DMT Chauffeur blankly. Unlike statistics or the Kardashians, this does not seem like an appropriate time to pretend I understand. ?Can you repeat that??
Doomed Situationship echoes DMT Chauffeur?s instructions perfectly, which still don?t compute.
?Got it?? DMT Chauffeur asks, his tone denoting mild irritation.
Leading question. ?Yep!? I lie. Fuck it. Can?t be that much different than vaping weed, right?
Within seconds, the already-glowing-green garden transforms into the setting of a Pixar horror movie. Each leaf withers before my eyes, suddenly an ashen grey-brown. The sky, which had formerly been twilight-blue, bleeds fiery, as though I?ve just clicked the scarlet bucket-option on Microsoft Paint (Ah, MS Paint. Those were simpler times?). Ashamed, I regretfully acknowledge I?ve taken residence in The Underworld, despite thousands of hours of yoga, meditation, therapy, and other forms of self-inquiry. Then I?m aware of my spiritual materialist craving and reprimand myself. Then I reprimand myself for reprimanding myself. Then I?m aware of my awareness of my awareness and congratulate myself. Then my head explodes. Jk, the last part didn?t happen.
I?m quickly distracted from my shame by the fact that I?m dying. Anyone who?s had a panic attack knows what I?m talking about. Unable to breathe and aware of my rapid heartbeat, with surprising calm I announce to DMT-Chauffeur and Doomed Situationship that I?m about to die.
?Guys, this is exactly what I didn?t want to happen.? I whine, my voice thick with disappointment. ?I?m dying.?
?You?re not dying.?
?You?re not dying.?
?Guys, I?m serious, I?m dying.? I protest, and my heart breaks as I think about how I?ll never see my girlfriends again. I wonder for a moment if my death-by-DMT would make my life?s work more or less credible. I?m still undecided.
?Do you want more contact or less contact?? Doomed Situationship asks me gently, touching my hand. I turn my attention toward him for comfort, only to be met by Lucifer: he?s the same shade as the sky and is sporting a set of nubby black horns. He smiles ? which I can only assume is a gesture of consoling ? but his Devil-like manifestation makes this ?consoling gesture? fucking terrifying. Doomed Situationship?s head then rolls off his body like a bowling ball coming out its machine feeder. NBD.
This is not good, I think.
I stare at him speechlessly before deciding it?s best to look straight ahead and pretend he isn?t there. This is my go-to strategy for when I?m getting blood drawn.
How am I in Hell? I think. After all this ?self-work?? Plus I?ve never even been to church!
Oh my god maybe this is because I?ve never been to church.
Oh my gosh*!
My three-second consideration of Christianity is overridden by the Buddhist principle that keeps me (relatively) grounded in painful moments. The word impermanence bubbles into my awareness as it always does when shit gets hard, and I tell myself to make space for the discomfort. This will pass.
No longer distracted by Satan, I?m once again reminded I?m dying. Shit. Still unable to breathe, I look down at my legs, which disintegrate. Then, writhing in distress, I aspirate, collapse, and ?die? (DMT-Chauffeur and Doomed Situationship later tell me I was still the entire time).
There were no white lights or angels that followed ? just the sensation I could breathe again ? at first, short sips of air as I was lifted up by my chest, back arched like I was in some orgasmic trance; then deep, full inhales as I noticed the sky was now white, cloudy, and? heavenly??
And suddenly I?m completely sober, surrounded by greenery again. Doomed Situationship seems human again. The sky has returned to an inoffensive, twilight blue. I am very much alive and very much relieved. And, subjectively, no more or less spiritually awakened.
A couple weeks later, I casually shared my experience with a shaman, whose opinion was that I?d gone to Hell searching for love based on some familial shit and whatnot. While the interpretation didn?t evoke new awareness, it did align nicely with what I?m working on in therapy (dating good humans).
Rather than conclude with an introductory guide to psychedelia, which I?m clearly not equipped to provide, I want to raise a couple points for anyone considering (or already experimenting with) psychedelics:
1. Don?t replace therapy with psychedelics:
Yes, psychedelia-assisted therapy is getting a lot of attention in the mental health professional community lately, with promising results. But the key words here are ?therapy? and ?professional.? While psychedelics have the potential to facilitate perspective-shifts or feelings of compassion, you also could go to Hell. Just as anti-depressants should be supported by professional help, so should psychedelic explorations (if your goal is improved mental health).
Turns out I?m on the same page as MAPS development officer Liana Gillooly, who says
?Psychedelics are not for everyone. And they are not a silver bullet. They are one of many tools that, when utilized properly and carefully, can be majorly transformative and can heal many types of mental suffering. Being mindful of the set, setting, intention, and doing it with someone who has experience, are among the most important factors to creating the conditions for a positive experience.? Gillooly also stresses the importance of ?integrating? or processing the experience.
2. Equip yourself with self-compassion and support, and be particularly intentional about it if you?re feeling vulnerable:
When I did a vipassana back in 2013, I?d already committed to a couple years of pretty intensive spiritual work. In my healing from a devastating breakup, debilitating eating disorder, depression and anxiety, I dove into Buddhist philosophy, a daily yoga practice, meditation, and (even more) therapy.
Finally relatively confident I was actually okay with me, I decided I was ready to be alone with my thoughts for ten days. And while there, the clinical part of me was shocked at the lack of support for the emotionally vulnerable.
My thoughts around psychedelia are similar: I strongly recommend you only dabble if you?re feeling resilient and supported. I?m pretty sure my ?Hell? experience would?ve been far more distressful if I didn?t have my ?cure for the pain is in the pain? mentality that?s become knee-jerk after many years of practice, plus two (sober) supports I trusted, who created a sense of safety and reminded me I wasn?t dying.
3. Trust no matter how much ?work? you do, you?ll never be free of difficult feelings.
Just as yoga, meditation, gratitude, ?finding the positive,? and gluten-free diets can be forms of spiritual bypassing (where we use spiritual practices, wellness, rationality, etc. to avoid feeling) and spiritual materialism (when we attach to spirituality as a goal we?re ?more or less spiritual? than the next person), so can psychedelia. If your goal is to ?never feel sad again? or do the most ceremonies of anyone you know, you?re completely human yet you?re listening to ego and are missing the point.
As long as you?re alive, you?re going to experience emotional discomfort (especially if you?re #datingin2018), and the key is to learn how to support yourself through that pain instead of trying not to feel it. Spiritual practices, including psychedelia, can help us change our relationship to discomfort, but they won?t eliminate it ? which makes for better stories, anyway.
Megan Bruneau, M.A. is a therapist, executive coach, still-hopeful romantic and host of The Failure Factor. Follow her on Instagram.
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