Something I find very interesting is how perspectives change on a collective and societal level. At our current point of incredible and accelerating global change, many societal shifts are underway, and this is happening with attitudes towards different types of drugs too.

Very taboo ones, like psychedelics, are becoming more accepted, championed even, and party drugs like MDMA and ketamine are gaining respect as therapeutic treatments.

Perhaps the most obvious example of how quickly a collective attitude towards a drug can shift from negative to positive is that of marijuana. Not so long ago it had fairly firm connotations of lazy people and potheads, and now in the States, it is a legitimate and respected medicine prescribed by doctors, with that reputation making its way worldwide.

In the other direction, older ones that have long been accepted like alcohol are dying down. Many people are cutting back, or quitting altogether, and the young generation are not drinking nearly as much as those gone before, even as recent as the youth of 20 years ago. A great example of this trend is the rise in alcohol free beers.

I happened to walk past this bar this morning

Sugar is another one that seems to be on the decline, something that people seem to be more conscious of in their use. The fact that many people now even view sugar as a drug is notable and this is something I think we will continue to see.

Another one which is beginning to be viewed more as a drug is caffeine. More and more people seem to be cutting back on coffee and keeping an eye on their caffeine intake. The idea that people have coffee addictions would have seemed very strange to me just 10 years ago. Now it seems totally normal, and also totally understandable due to the jitters and anxiety that a high intake can bring. I myself am currently doing a 30 day coffee break this month (yes another 30 day challenge, I know 🙂 ).

What is Shifting Awareness and Social Acceptability of Drugs?

Awareness around mental and physical health is growing in general, as can be seen by the rise in the term ‘wellness’ which is at least in part as a response to rising rates of mental health problems. Also a big contributing factor is lots of good science and solid data, combined with thoughtful researchers and writers.

Recent examples that spring to mind are Michael Pollan’s best seller How To Change Your Mind, and The Case Against Sugar by Gary Taubes. Pollan’s book tells us before we even begin, through its subtitle, that psychedelics have something to teach us across a wide variety of topics, and Taubes title sets the tone, with the book basically concluding that sugar should be a controlled substance.    

New Categories Of Drugs

Another type of drug which is on the rise, and whose category bleeds into that of enhancer or supplement, is the nootropic. Nootropics are riding the wave of the rising trend of human performance and optimisation, and is linked to health as well as productivity. The category of nootropics is not that specific and could generally be termed as cognitive enhancers. As such it is wide ranging and includes things like medicinal mushrooms supplements, vitamin pills, and ‘study drugs’, such as modafinil. Because of its wide ranging term, it also includes drugs from other categories, such as coffee and microdoses of psychedelics.

What’s The Difference Between Drugs and Food?

An interesting discussion point made by both Terence McKenna and Michael Pollan is that of the distinction between food and drugs. Both affect our neurochemistry, our mood, health, energy, and sense of wellbeing. Both are consumed, as an external item into the body (this is where you would exclude exercise, for example, as a drug). Previously, one might have said that what is made in a lab is a drug and what is grown on land is food but the lines are blurring.

Some examples to consider the distinction:

  • Magic mushrooms
  • Processed food. Factory farmed meat.
  • The very idea of ‘organic’ food

Are mushrooms food or drug? If they have a psychoactive effect, do they stop being a food? If diet affects mood and how our mindbody organism operates, is food a drug? If standard coffee is a drug, is decaffeinated coffee not? If our food is created in a lab or factory, is it still a food?

I find this to be a very interesting topic and I think the changing attitudes to drugs are intertwined with changing trends and increased focus on nutrition and diet. This can be seen with the huge rise in veganism, and also in new ideas of diets, such as gluten free, lactose free, paleo, keto etc. In general we are paying much more attention to what we are putting in to our bodies and the impact it has on us.

Where will be in 20 years?

I think that psychedelics will continue to rise, as both a means of self exploration and a science backed response to the mental health crisis, and I’d also suggest that veganism will continue to rise, as awareness rises of the appalling conditions of exploited animals, and seeing as the environmental problems we are facing don’t seem to be going away any time soon.

As for the others, I really am not sure. Perhaps nootropics will usher us towards the next stage of our evolution and we will merge with tech in an transhuman stage of life on earth. Really, its anyone’s guess.

Nitrous oxide is very rarely mentioned in the psychedelic world and isn’t taken seriously in the way that say, psilocybin, MDMA or ketamine now are. I guess part of that is because its nickname, laughing gas, and how its commonly taken, by breathing it in through balloons – a party item – make it kind of a joke to begin with.

It has been used in dentistry for its analgesic and anxiolytic properties but not much is said of its hallucinogenic or mind expanding properties…

Historical Influence

What is interesting is that it has history and influence with serious thinkers and scholars, most notably the great American philosopher and Harvard psychologist William James, “the Father of American psychology”. James was particularly interested in mystical experiences, investigating them throughout his life, and he experimented with nitrous oxide, as well as others including the more classic psychedelic peyote.

James claimed that whilst under the influence of nitrous, he was finally able to understand the philosophy of the German philosopher Hegel. He went on to do important work in the philosophy of religion and provided a wide-ranging account of The Varieties of Religious Experience in a book of the same name that was based on his lectures.

In the earlier history of nitrous oxide is the British chemist and inventor Sir Humphrey Davy, who came upon it when investigating surgical gases. Davy gave it the name ‘laughing gas’, because of its effects on him, and was a huge fan, giving demos at the Royal Institution where he would take it himself or give it to others. He openly espoused its enjoyable qualities and introduced it to others, many of whom he converted, including the Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

“LIVING MADE EASY” A satirical print from 1830 depicting Humphry Davy administering a dose of laughing gas to a woman

Davy became addicted to nitrous and this does highlight its potential for addiction. The short lasting nature and euphoric and relaxing effects lend itself to this, and its addictive tendencies have gotten it the nickname ‘hippy crack’.

My Experience

Personally, nitrous oxide has been host to some of my most intense and extreme but also revelatory experiences. I have seen scientific truths in incredible detail, seeing how particles form waves, and experienced first hand Relativism, that truth is always relative to some particular frame of reference and all concepts, like large and small, for example, are never objective, that they can only be used in relation to something else.

I have found nitrous oxide can be used as an aid on sessions to ‘blast’ through anxiety and ground, dropping in to experience. It can also have this strange way of giving a moment of clarity and almost sobriety in the midst of an LSD trip, giving a frame of reference as to where and how deep you are in the journey.

Nitrous is a potent combinator and has a powerful multiplier and synergistic effect when combined with other psychedelics. When mixed with others, the experience is always more than the sum of its parts. Taking into account its combinations, the variety of experience is amazingly wide. Sometimes I compare it to being dropped into a multi verse roulette; you jump, it will spin you around, and you have no idea where you will land. You might experience being another person in another part of history, before coming back to yourself. 

Short Lasting

When inhaled from a balloon, the effects are very short lasting. The peak rises quickly after about 10-20 seconds, and then the effects gradually fade, retuning to baseline after 60 seconds. As with other short acting psychedelics, its harder to really integrate these experiences and I do wonder about the lasting value of them, as compared to say psilocybin, or LSD, which are less like flashes and when you are submerged in an experience for hours.

Nitrous oxide can be a very unpredictable experience and can be fun, wild, chaotic, and also like a punch in the face.I have been left both blissful and shaken after experiences on both ends of the spectrum of harmony and disorder.  Still, I would like to see some research done on it as I find it to be a fascinating substance with possibly untapped potential. I suspect its ability to dissolve reality and be dropped in to another could probably have some useful and pragmatic application.

My Psychedelic Story Part 1

Soon after returning home from Latin America in 2017, My Mum decided to leave my Dad after many years of difficulties in their marriage. It was a very difficult time for us all, for both of them, for my older brother, and for me.

I managed to take it reasonably well, understanding the reasons why after seeing it not really working for many years. I wanted them to stay together but didn’t want to continue seeing the pain that they were both in in the relationship. It broke my heart but felt like it was the only real way forward. In the end, I just wanted both of,i them to be happy.

I tried my best to conduct myself as a good son, to do the best that I could, supporting them both through the process, having long talks with both of them, hearing both of them, and not taking either side.

It was during this period of separation, whilst we were still living in the same house, that I went again up to Sheffield for a private solo psychedelic session.

I was in an emotionally rocky patch with everything going on, and even cried on the train ride from my home town up to Sheffield. I stayed in a friends house whilst he was away for the weekend. One of those friends who I’d had my very first experiences with.

I conducted this session in the most considered and ceremonial way of all the trips I had yet. I had done the photo trip in the weeks before, and had a selection of them with me. On the day, I tidied the space thoroughly before, burnt sage, opened with a prayer in a simple dropping ceremony, then I took around 2 and a half tabs of 1p-LSD.

I used headphones and an eye mask for the first time, following the standard protocol used in the research and by the practitioners in the books I’d read by James Fadiman and Leo Zeff.

The come up was pretty bumpy and early on I used nitrous oxide to ground myself and drop in to experience. However, I continued to I encounter hurdles of anxiety and doubt as my sense of self continued to shift and dissolve. I just kept reassuring myself ‘I am OK, I have taken LSD, this is part of the experience, relax yourself’. I continued to follow my meditation training, relaxing myself by returning to my breath, breathing deep, and relaxing all the muscles in my body. 

In the first chapter I flew through music, and even before hearing them, saw notes and sounds as objects formed in colourful patterns, flying through wide open space, and crashing in to an invisible wall and exploding as those sounds actually reached my ears and I heard them. I felt my perception open wide beyond me and I lay marvelled at a sense of liberation and wonder. My first album of Brazilian psychedelic rock ended and I put on some Brian Eno.

At some point I’m not really sure what or how it happened, but I left.

I dissolved in to the energy of the universe. I became one with the all encompassing stream of energy that makes up all spirit, matter and life. But at the same time there was some how some witness experiencing it. It’s strange in that I only came to understand it in this way after I came out of it and some how back in my body later on. Whilst in it, it just was, but I wasn’t there.

In that experience, there were visions of what felt like a past life, and alternate realities, or sub realities to the one in which we inhabit.

There were cryptic messages, somehow transmitted to me, that my mother and father will come together again, though it may be after these current incarnations.

Somehow in some way, they will find their way back to each other and it will be the most beautiful reunion. They will both see and understand it all, and that their separation in this way was just a part of a larger story. 

As parents, they have more than done their part. They have done so much for me. I will forever be thankful for them, all the love and support that they have shown me and the most incredible parents that they have been. They will, and we as a family, will find our love for each other again. Their break, as everything, is temporary. Everything will come together again.

Somewhere in this universal experience, I saw my life within the great story of life and of humanity. Somehow, my whole life, not just up to that point, but of my years to come, had already happened. I understood that my life is just an expression of the universe. Just like how a single one of my smiles is an expression of me, John Andrew, at one moment in my life, I understood how my entire life as John Andrew is a singular expression of the universe, at one extended moment. Again, I didn’t see it and understand it in that moment, it somehow happened after, coming to me in bits and pieces during the hours, days and weeks after the experience as I reflected and processed.

Half returned to my body but still very much in the experience. I flooded with tears. I sobbed and weeped like a baby. I don’t believe I have cried so hard since I was an actual baby, so full and unashamed as it was. Full throttle, deep and reverberating, out and out bawling. It was right, to let it out, and I felt all the pain of my parents relationship flowing out as memories of situations from our home came back to me. 

After my weeping descended, on a toilet break, I saw myself in the bathroom mirror, my eyes still wet with tears. I saw myself as a young boy of around 8 or 9. I saw this poor young boy standing before me and felt a compassion and lovingkindness towards him. And then a thought came to my mind…. ‘so this is what our society deems to be a criminal’. Here was this boy, trying to help myself, doing no harm to anyone else… and this is a criminal activity. It felt so wrong.

Why should this be illegal?

I was extremely fortunate in that I had a friend who had a house that I had access to. But that was extremely lucky. What if he hadn’t gone away for the weekend? And what about all the people who don’t have access to a private space?

I received tremendously from this experience but it was a massive logistical struggle to set up. Before even beginning to think about the space, it was very difficult to procure that LSD in the first place. It was only because of my prior experiences, combined with reading reports from the studies and research, that I knew there was something really there with psychedelics, something really worth discovering. If I didn’t have such a firm conviction, I would have given up long before.

I considered how many people could benefit from this type of experience but are prohibited from doing . It upset me. The criminalisation of LSD and other psychedelics made no sense. It felt deeply unjust. 

That feeling stayed with me. I felt indignant about drug policy and with a new clarity I saw how insane current drug laws are. In a burst of passion I wrote a draft on my journey home, trying to find the angle from every side, scribbling in notebooks on bus and train rides back. 

Back at home, I had gained a deeper understanding and insight in to my parents separation. I could place no blame on either side. I thought of their upbringings, raised in different continents, from different cultures and backgrounds. It was just unfortunate that didn’t work out in the way we had all hoped. Any lingering feelings I had of frustration and resent towards my parents dissolved. I understood them as my way of trying to deal with the difficult feelings that came from losing my family and home as I knew it.

I came to a deeper compassion for both of my parents. Neither of them wanted this and they both suffered as a result of it too. No one was to blame, it was just how it went. Whatever happened, I know I had super parents, and I understand how incredibly fortunate I was to have grown up in such a loving and caring household, that always wanted me to succeed, that always supported me, that has always been there for me.

Mum and Dad, I love you both so much and will be forever grateful. I hope that I can only show the world the love you have shown to me. If I can bring an ounce of that to others, I know the world will be a better place. Your love has given me deep strength and inner resources to go on in my life. You have taught me to always try my best, to try to do the right thing, and at the bottom of it all, with heart.

This experience gave me a deep reverence for the high dose ceremonial psychedelic experience. For the depths of healing and understanding, for the incredible mystery of existence, for the mystical dimensions of the universe, of the divine, the sacred, and the absolute mystery of it all.

It made me aware of how incredibly sensitive and vulnerable we are in these spaces and states, and that is something I carry with me every time I sit down next to someone for a session.

It also led me to believe that nearly all problems stem from misunderstanding. When it comes to understanding each other, communication is key and I have come to value communication as a key life skill.

Back to the weeks and months following the trip…
Reflecting on that experience, I thought: how many people could benefit from this experience?

It became my mission to make this experience more accessible. 

I understood that this is the field I want to work in and dedicate my life to.

I wanted to go all in on the movement and help in any way that I could, but I didn’t have a clear direction.

I started where I was. I wanted to work on social stigma, seeing cultural perception as a means of shaping advocacy and civil rights movements, and broadening the field of people who might be interested; so I continued on with the blog, citing research more, using logos and science, the language and religion of our world today.

I also wanted to work on being able to offer safe and conducive places for people to have them. The drug laws might take decades to change. That wasn’t good enough. But where to begin?

I needed more experience, more knowledge, and I needed to really engage with the global psychedelic community.

Accordingly, I took the next steps…

https://mapsofthemind.com/2020/07/30/my-psychedelic-story-pt-3/

My psychedelic history started for real in late 2011. It was an experience with LSD, MDMA, marijuana and nitrous oxide (AKA laughing gas) all together in one session that ended up lasting around 24 hours.

At the time I was a regular weed smoker and had tried salvia once in a crazy student drug experience story, and MDMA one or two times at festivals. Other than that the only other psychoactive substances I’d tried were alcohol, coffee, and M-cat (a popular student drug around 2009).

Back to late 2011. I’d graduated with a degree in broadcasting the year before and was lacking any real direction in life. After entering and leaving the media industry – quick disillusionment – I was back at home and living with my parents, unemployed. I was disillusioned with the global political system and didn’t feel any real desire or inspiration to participate in what I saw as a game controlled by elites. I enjoyed spending time staying home, listening to music, half heartedly looking for jobs, and smoking weed whilst walking the dog.

Around that time some school friends of mine tried some magic mushrooms and had a good experience and invited me to try them with them. I was eager, and headed up to Sheffield to join them a few weeks later. It was a fun recreational experience and afterwards they came across someone who had LSD. I’d wanted to try acid for a while, having appreciated how weed was able to change my perception and creative ideas, and vaguely aware of LSD’s influence on many great musicians including one of my all time favourites, The Beatles. My friends were never so keen on trying LSD, but after a couple of positive experiences with mushrooms, they were in.

We set a date for a few weekends away.

In the run up, I’d read online that taking MDMA before can be a good way to enter in to an LSD trip, as it gets you in a good mood and that is a good place to enter the trip from.

I can agree, though the come up was absolutely mega and intense. Admittedly, we did help those matters by continuing to smoke weed and knock back nitrous oxide.

What happened over that 24 hour period was surreal. The world of perception totally changed. I became in tune to the mysteries of existence, awareness, perception, how fluid reality is. I had never experienced anything like it before. Listening to music with my eyes closed, I surfed epic chunky guitar riffs through space like an exhilarated cosmonaut. At some point between nitrous oxide hits, I came to a deep realisation; that all existence is a huge game.

I let out huge bellows of laughter that reverberated deep throughout me.

The understanding that it is all a game took all the pressure of life off. It is all a show! We are all characters of a play. It is a game. So… I should play!

The perspective that stayed with me made me embrace the idea that I should explore and experience more. On some level my fears were eroded and I began to dream about what I wanted to really do with the life, the incredible chance at a life I have been given.

Growing up with maps in our home and hearing my Dad’s stories, I had always wanted to travel. I got a temp job as a teacher and began saving. Travel took over my life and in autumn of 2012, I set off with a friend on a 1 month inter-rail tour of Europe, which lead to me shortly thereafter moving to China. Asia had been a place I’d long wanted to explore, drawn back to my roots and to the side of my family that I have been so disconnected from.

By China, my fascination with psychedelics had evolved into a deep interest in consciousness and mystical experiences. The trail lead me to meditation and there I found joined classes and began practicing everyday.

Towards the end of my year in China, a friend of mine and I made a visit to Huang Shan, the epic mountains that were the inspiration for the floating mountains in Avatar. On one early morning, we dropped some aMT, an obscure tryptamine, before heading out to see the sunrise.

I still count this as one of the most incredible experiences I’ve been witness to. Seeing that gas ball appear over the horizon, we both instantly understood millennia of sun worship. I felt a deep connection to my ancient ancestors and all those religions who worshipped the Sun.

After leaving China, I attended my first vipassana retreat, 10 days of silent meditation. At the time I was pretty serious about spiritual practice and was actually aiming for a full spiritual enlightenment in this lifetime. That does seem quite funny to say now, but its true. Suffice to say that I was with a strong determination and practiced very diligently. I feel that by being so driven I and my practice have derived some benefit in the long term. However, with such a strong work ethic, the retreat was the most difficult thing I had ever done in my life. Afterwards I concluded that the monks life, which I had seriously considered (becoming ordained and all), was not for me. The retreat made me appreciate the pleasures and treasures of samsaric existence, of being in the world and engaging with it. I have since come somewhere in the middle. I maintain a spiritual practice but I am also man of the world and enjoy interacting with reality in this way.

In 2014, I moved to Spain, joining a weekly sitting in the tradition of zen and Thich Nhat Han and joining my first regular yoga class. At the end of my time there I attended my first psychedelic retreat in Andalucia. This was my first encounter of any shaman, facilitator or any kind of guide in the psychedelic world. As a group of around 10, we had 2 salvia ceremonies, 2 ayahuasca ceremonies and one san pedro. After one of those ayahuasca ceremonies, deep into the night and after everyone had gone to bed, feeling disappointed that nothing had happened, with my guard finally down, I broke down, floods of tears falling down, weeping for hours. I felt the pure suffering of humanity. How hard it is, what struggle a human existence entails.

During and upon leaving the retreat I had questions about our shaman and the way the whole thing was held. This later became the topic of my talk at the Beyond Psychedelics conference a couple years ago.

Soon after, in the summer of 2014 I moved to Korea. I had the whole year drug free and figuring the break from weed would be good, doubled down on my meditation practice, keeping it consistent, reading more books, attending a temple stay and a local mindfulness meetup. I saved diligently as I was planning to take time off work and explore options outside of English teaching. I began my first version of this blog, called Mindmaker, feeling that I had some things to share and wanting to start some kind of side project related to my interests.

I had adventures in Japan, Taiwan and Egypt, and after another vipassana retreat to touch base, I began planning my epic psychedelic adventure…

February 2016, I arrived in Brazil on a one way ticket. Lured to Latin America by their native psychedelics and plant medicines, I ended up staying there over 13 months and travelling to 12 countries.

As I moved through South America, I did 3 ayahuasca ceremonies over a week in the Bolivian amazon, high dose San Pedro alone in the Peruvian Andes. In Mexico I sought out peyote in the Mexican deserts of San Luis Potosi, before leaving, reading Carlos Castaneda, and then deciding I needed to go back, heading back out there for more desert peyote sessions.

I made my way onwards to the state of Oaxaca, famous for the Western discovery of magic mushrooms by Gordon Wasson. Whilst there, a post on my blog went semi-viral through reddit and it encouraged me to keep creating and writing about my travels and experiences. I upgraded the site and got the name Maps of the Mind (thanks Joe!). I continued on and made my way to the mountainous region of Oaxaca where mushrooms were around, first visiting from my beach location home and tripping with a friend for her first time, and then packing up and heading with my belongings to spend more time there.

I was there over new years, taking mushrooms alone in the wilderness of nature on consecutive days. Working with the mushrooms as I entered 2017, I set my intentions for the year ahead.

My time up in those mountains is still one of my most treasured memories to date. The atmosphere of the place, the people passing through, the views and sunsets. It was a magical time.

I finished off my travels, continuing to practice writing, learn photography and Spanish, and finally returned to the UK in the spring.

What is funny is that, after all my travels, experiences, and ceremonies in Latin America, I finally got the experience I was really looking for upon returning home. Back in an old red brick house in the North of England on a grey day. A solo experience in a self made ceremony, put together by drawing upon work from the pioneers of Western psychedelic therapy of the 50s and 60s.

This experience was where my appreciation of the deep mystical and healing potential of psychedelics began. It is where my journey in the psychedelic world went a whole nother level deeper. It is what lead to me really engaging with and being involved with the psychedelic movement and worldwide community. This experience started a whole new chapter…