Jun 22, 2011 I Micah Hanks

Self-induced Spiritualism: Can Some Psychedelics Change our Outlook for the Better?

For years, many who have sought the spiritual path have advocated things ranging from meditation and dietary planning to exercise and exotic belief systems in an effort to come closer to achieving "oneness" or enlightenment. It's a process that people from virtually every culture and every area of the world have found themselves pursuing, and it's something which intrigues our imaginations with the possibility that there are elements to our existence that extend beyond the scope of the everyday things in life.

Therefore, it's no surprise that, occasionally, some have advocated the use of psychedelic substances for such purposes, ranging from cannabis and psychedelic mushrooms, to the more controversial substances such as LSD and dimethyltryptamine (DMT). Of course, the drug culture of the 1960s had both its pros and its cons, and despite the sorts of "enlightenment" many claimed to have achieved by incorporating the use of such things into their lifestyle, we've all been made privy to horror stories just as well, involving the tragic ways many substances can lead to issues regarding one's mental health and general well being. But is it really fair to say that certain psychedelic substances, when used properly, might not have some beneficial qualities?

According to the folks over at John Hopkins University, which have been engaged in a series of experiments with psilocybin, the active component in so-called "magic mushrooms," this is certainly the case. Recent findings of a study at the university's school of medicine has determined that appropriately measured amounts of the drug can not only produce a positive experience with a minimized risk of negative drawback (perhaps this is a reference to the sort of "bad trip" we often hear of), but also with long-lasting positive effects on participant's life outlook and spirituality.

Incredibly, 94 percent of those participating in the study "rated it as one of the top five most spiritually significant experiences of their lifetimes." 89 percent also said they felt that lasting positive changes in their general outlook on life occurred, ranging from increased value of personal friendships and familial relations, and general improvements on mental outlook. In the future, it is hoped that substances such as psilocybin might be able to be used more frequently in controlled settings, in an effort to help people struggling with things like addiction and depression.

Of course, psilocybin is far from being the only substance of the psychedelic variety that can seem to improve people's lives. One controversial drug known as ibogaine, mentioned in the work of authors ranging from Daniel Pinchbeck to Hunter H. Thompson, has been an object of mystery for it's apparent ability to reverse the harmful effects of addiction. Many who have gone through ceremonial ibogaine "cleansings" have reported having drug and substance addictions virtually lifted, as though the process had chemically removed their desire to engage in the use of such things. Despite the potential for improvement in people's lives, ibogaine use is also black-listed in most countries, and there is a resulting general lack of knowledge about how this powerful drug actually works.

During a conversation I recently had with a friend, he had mentioned to me the various ways that certain substances or even diseases can affect our bodies chemically or genetically. "Think of a record being played," he said. "Now if that record gets scratched, it's never gonna play quite the same way again in the future." Much the same, when we have a life-altering experience, often we're "scratched" in the same way; but the effects may not always be purely mental or memory-based. Indeed, there could perhaps be subtle chemical changes that might be induced with the use of substances like psilocybin and ibogaine, among others. When used to excess or in circumstances where a "bad trip" might occur, they become dangerous. But when used in an environment that is conducive to eliciting a positive experience, the benefit of such chemical interactions within the body may be life-changing for the better. Too bad there are still so many prejudices and stereotypes applied to these substances, based on the dangers associated with them, that cause their use for potential good to be restricted also.

Have you ever had a life-changing experience--good or bad--that involved the use of substances such as these? What are your feelings about their use in a therapeutic or rehabilitative sense, and could we stand to benefit from lifting some of the old restrictions on them with interest in providing alternative therapies for victims of addiction, etc? Your thoughts on the matter, as always, are welcome and appreciated.


Micah Hanks
Micah Hanks is a writer, podcaster, and researcher whose interests cover a variety of subjects. His areas of focus include history, science, philosophy, current events, cultural studies, technology, unexplained phenomena, and ways the future of humankind may be influenced by science and innovation in the coming decades. In addition to writing, Micah hosts the Middle Theory and Gralien Report podcasts.

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