Can psychedelic substances offer a glimpse into another mode of consciousness? In this bigthink video, neuroscientist, ‘spiritual atheist’ and author of Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion, Sam Harris talks of the virtues of psychedelics and their ability to open people up to the possibility of a change in consciousness.

“For some people, taking a drug is the only way they’re gonna notice that it’s possible to have a very different experience of the world.”

Sam mentions LSD and MDMA and talks of how psychedelic drugs were ‘indispensable’ in his spiritual enquiry, an experience shared by many westerners. I’m inclined to agree with Sam on this; my own first psychedelic experiences with LSD were what awakened me to other types of consciousness and experience, and that led me to meditation and spirituality- two things I didn’t have any interest in before, and now look – you’re on a website I started about meditation.

Sam talks of how psychedelics can help solve the problem of the ‘slow-method’ of meditation and mindfulness in changing consciousness; that it can be difficult and require a lot of patience, and that for many people, ‘if you tell them to meditate, or teach them mindfulness […] they will look inside for 30 seconds, or 30 minutes, and see nothing of interest, and walk away feeling that there’s nothing there’. Quoting Terence McKenna, Sam says that “psychedelics are the only method that truly guarantee an effect”.

 ‘There’s no question that if someone gives you 100 micrograms of acid, something is going to happen […] 2 hours later, the significance of your existence will have been borne down on you like an avalanche, […] the one thing it cannot be is boring’.

Sam also talks of his first important experience with psychedelics and how it shifted his view of human possibility. He shares about his ‘revolutionary insight’, and how he became clearer in thinking and feeling;

There was a whole veneer of fear, frankly, that I didn’t know was there, that got stripped away, and [there was] just naked awareness of the present moment.

He continues about the feelings of boundless and unconditional love and compassion that he felt, and the loss of any egoic self concern, and how he has achieved similar states through meditation.

Have you had any mind-expanding experiences with psychedelics? Have they been useful to you as a means of discovering something about the nature of your mind? Please share how psychedelics have impacted your life in the comments.