Psychedelics are not an integrated part of our culture in the West and as such they can be difficult to talk about. There is still social stigma attached to the topic, and even though they are increasingly gaining credibility and acceptance, they are still in many ways taboo.

How easily and openly you can talk about psychedelics of course depends on who you are talking to. If you have a very open minded friend then perhaps it is no problem to speak with them about your interest or experience with psychedelics. However, if you come from a conservative background then it may be very difficult to speak about with family members and even bringing up the topic might start ringing alarm bells.

Selective Sharing For Integration

When it comes to a successful integration of your experience, selective sharing is an important point. Just as you have certain friends that you might speak to about certain things like music or philosophy, in the same way you probably have friends that would be more open and receptive to the topic of psychedelics.

Choose carefully who you will share your experience with and how much you will share. The experience can lose some of its magic if not held properly by the listener. A highly skeptical or even mocking response can really dampen what was a very personally meaningful experience and detract from it’s power to catalyze positive change in your life. In some cases it may even cause you to doubt what you experienced and and be encouraged to brush it off as nothing more than a weird drug experience.

Know Your Crowd

Selective sharing should also take into account which aspects of your experience you choose to talk about. If you had a spiritual experience and you have a friend who is very firm in their material mechanistic worldview, then it may not be worth speaking to them about the spiritual aspects of your experience or connecting with the divine. Most likely it will be written off and rationalised by someone who at the end of the day did not experience what you experienced. However, you may be able to speak to that same friend about some of the positive changes you have felt since the experience. You could talk about how you feel or think differently and can even reference some of the science which has shown the changes that happen in the brain. Referencing some of the scientific research that has been done may provide a perspective on the experience that your friend will more readily trust.

 

With this in mind it may not be that with some friends you can speak about psychedelics with and others not. It is more a case of choosing how you speak about psychedelics with each individual.

Opening a Conversation

A good entry to a conversation about psychedelics is to ask a question. Rather than opening up with “I had an amazing experience last weekend on LSD“ you could open up with:

  • “did you ever try LSD?“
  • “did you have any experience with psychedelic drugs?“
  • “do you know anything about psychedelic drugs?“

Entering into a conversation this way is a good way of putting the feelers out. You can get a gauge on persons perspective without commiting yourself to anything and can proceed accordingly in the conversation. If it seems like you do not want to go any further you can say “oh I just read something interesting about it the other day and it got me quite interested.”

Choosing a time to share

If there is someone who you would really like to speak to but are afraid of their response, try to choose a time when they are in a more open and less judgemental state. Generally if someone opens up or shows a vulnerability to you then they will be in a more open frame of mind. Another good sign is when they are really listening to you and asking questions that come from a place of curiosity rather than challenge.

Shifting the landscape through conversation

Talking about psychedelics is an important part of shifting the cultural conversation around the topic and moving the psychedelic movement forwards. With that in mind I would like to share a quote from my friend and Altered founder Dax DeFranco from an interview I did with him back in 2017:

“I think the most important thing is to use and talk about them in an honest way. There’s a lot of talk about ‘coming out of the psychedelic closet’ – like I mentioned before, when you’re the only person who’s experimented with x, it’s hard to talk about it or make it a part of your identity, but the more people that do, the less pressure and fear others feel to identify that way. I think the simple act of being a psychedelic person who’s honest about being a psychedelic person is extremely powerful.”

What is an LSD experience like? This is a question I often get asked by people who are curious about the psychedelic experience and who just want to know: what is it actually like?

One word that is often used when trying to describe the experience is ineffable. Which means that it cannot be put into words. However this kind of relegates language and is also, dare I say it, a little lazy. That said, I do understand that it is an extremely difficult experience to describe.

subjective effects of lsd katrin preller

Psychedelic researcher Katrin Preller

Last year I went to a series of talks put on by the MIND foundation at their Betahaus hub in Berlin. One of these talks was by Katrin Preller on the topic of social cognition and self experience. As part of her presentation Katrin presented the subjective effects of LSD as reported by study participants. This is an excellent summary and I think answers the question very well, with a nice succinct list of aspects of the experience.

Subjective effects of LSD

  • Audio-visual synesthesia
  • Elemental imagery
  • Changed meaning of percepts
  • Blissful state
  • Complex imagery
  • Experience of unity
  • Insightfulness
  • Disembodiment
  • Impaired control and cognition
  • Spiritual experience
  • Anxiety

The diagram below shows us how strongly each of the effects were felt. As you can see, audio-visual synesthesia scored highest, and anxiety lowest.
subjective effects lsd schmidt et al 2015

Subjective effects of LSD. Schmidt et al. 2015

You can see Katrin’s whole talk here:

One thing that it is worth noting is that a psychedelic experience depends largely on three factors; set, setting and dose. The variance between these factors can totally change the experience, as well as the type of person who has the experience. For example, if a low-doses was taken at a party I don’t think spiritual experience or disembodiment would come up so much. Still, I think the list holds up as an excellent summary of the effects.

What is the ideal mindset for a psychedelic journey? I would say the best approach is that of the explorer.

So. what does it mean to be an explorer?

Openness

A good explorer is open to possibilities of experience. When an explorer goes into a new territory or land, they need to remain open minded, letting go of pre-judgments or expectations, if they really want to learn about the landscape, terrain, peoples or culture. Having a fixed idea of what something should be or look like limits the possibility and potential to see it in other ways. This limits the potential for what can be learned in an experience.

For example, if you have a very specific idea that you should feel love and joy and understanding but in fact you feel fear and sadness, then you may get caught in thoughts of “this isn’t what its supposed to be, its not what I signed up for“ and miss a great opportunity that the fear and sadness presented.

Upon encountering the unexpected in a new place, whether it may be shocking or disappointing, a good traveller doesn’t judge “that shouldn’t be there”, they openly accept.

Being at war with what is actually arising is not the way. Being open to and accepting what comes up allows you to work with what is there. This is where I trust comes in.

Trust

Trust that whatever comes up is part of the experience you are supposed to have. Psychedelics are amplifiers for consciousness meaning they bring up what is deep down inside you. They will pull up things from your subconscious to your conscious mind. So trust that whatever arises in the session is something that is deep within you and is an opportunity for you to know yourself more deeply.

Curiosity

Any good explorer is curious about the terrain they are exploring, their surroundings and the situations they find themselves in. Curiosity brings attention to detail and is the bedrock of a deep learning. Curiosity brings a wonder to things and a richer and deeper experience.

Curiosity comes in the I of the RAIN process

Anything that arises in a psychedelic session can be looked at with a curiosity. For example, say you start feeling annoyed. Perhaps there is some noise coming from your neighbors that you haven’t planned on being part of your experience. Curiosity can transmute this feeling of annoyance and irritation to an object for investigation. You can then ask:

OK, why do I feel annoyed about this sound? What am I believing that causes me to be annoyed? How do I know I feel annoyed? How does it feel in my body? What sensations arise in my body? What is this felt experience of being annoyed?

Maybe it could be a feeling of worry and perhaps thoughts come up like “oh no I took too much, this is too strong for me, I can’t handle this“. Again, after recognizing this you can investigate with a curiosity:

What is this feeling of worry? What is it I’m believing that makes me worry? How do I feel this in my body?

Dig in to those sensations. Really look at them. What is their substance? What is their tone or colour?

“Look the monster in the eye and move towards it… Dig in your heels; ask, ‘What are you doing in my mind?’ Or, ‘What can I learn from you?’ Look for the darkest corner in the basement, and shine your light there.”

From Bill Richards’ Flight Instructions,
given to participants of John Hopkins psilocybin studies

The ability to hold this curious approach to difficult feelings can require mindfulness and a lot of patience. Having a tripsitter there to be with you and if necessary, talk you through it, can be a huge help. In the long term, meditation is good practice to develop both patience and mindfulness.

Adventure

Another aspect of the explorer’s mindset is that of the sense of adventure. To head in to unknown territory can be scary and nerve-racking, but it can also be very exciting. Seeing your psychedelic journey as an adventure acknowledges all those feelings and makes space for them.

Jim Fadiman expressly called psychedelic journeyers explorers in his now classic and highly influential book

Experimenter

I also find approaching psychedelic sessions as exploration via experiments to be very beneficial. I find it helps to relieve pressure and let go of the feeling that it’s necessary to figure everything out and receive all the teachings that you ever wanted all in the one session. If you learn anything then the experiment was a success.  You have new data that you can use to move forward on your path of growth. This again ties in to not having too many expectations.

“Think progress, not perfection“
Ryan Holiday

Trying to push too hard, to get the absolute maximum best optimum psychedelic experience can actually have an adverse effect and lead to a less rewarding experience.

After all each psychedelic experience is only one of many experiences in your life, and trying to control the experience too much or confining it to certain ideas or expectations that you have about how it should turn out or make you feel will be counter productive.

A kind and gentle approach, acknowledging where you are and what you are capable of, at that time, whilst still making an honest and sincere effort, is the best way forward…

Kindness

Finally I think a very useful approach is that of kindness. Kindness to yourself and kindness to anything that arises within the session.

Relating back to openneness, any idea of what is supposed to happen in a session can lead to a clash between expectation and reality.

If thoughts such as “I’m not doing this right” or “I should have been paying more attention” or any kind of such negative self talk comes up, then remember that you cannot do it wrong. I find it very helpful to remember that I can always be kind to myself.

Cultivating The Explorer’s Mindset

The explorer’ mindset can be cultivated in your day-to-day life. The next time you go out for a walk, look around your neighbourhood as if it was for the first time that you saw everything, as if you were a tourist. Be curious about the color of the paint on the buildings, the style of the architecture, the textures, the smells in the air, the types of food, the people on the streets. Suspend your judgment and be open to and accepting of what is there. Cultivate this mindset and carry it with you into your next psychedelic journey. Have a great and curious day, and explore!

Self-care is an important part of integrating a psychedelic experience and in general some good practices are:

  • Spending time in nature
  • Meditation
  • Adequate sleep
  • Exercise
  • Clean diet
  • Journaling

However integration is an individual process and will work best if you personalise and find things that work best for you.

What is Self Care?

Self-care is often be understood as things which promote health, rest and relaxation such as going for a walk or taking hot a bath. However, a much more effective way of understanding self-care is by broadening its definition to anything that replenishes your energetic reservoir. Anything that energizes you, replenishes you or (re) charges you in some way can be considered a self-care practice. This includes activities that really light you up, nourish your soul, and invite your presence. Any activities that fall in to these categories can be considered excellent self-care practices and used to develop your own personalized integration system.

Today I’d like to share an exercise in two parts that can help you to develop your own personalized self care kit.

Creating a Personalised Self Care Kit

1. Make a To Be List

We all have long and seemingly unending to do lists, but what about a to be list? Take a moment to journal your answers to these questions:

  • What are the inner experiences that you love?
  • What are the inner experiences where you feel most at home?

Examples: calm, peaceful, inspired, confident, creative, playful, at ease, humorous, loving, adventurous, kind, powerful, motivated, courageous, disciplined etc.

2. Which activities?

Once you have your to be list, journal answers to:

  • What nourishes those states?
  • What activities help to cultivate those states?
  • What are the activities that really light you up?
  • What activities really serve your soul?

Examples: listening to music, travel, writing, hanging out with friends, cooking, going to see a film, creating art, exercise, cuddling, going camping, getting a massage, going on a retreat etc.

When creating your list of activities do not be afraid to really personalize it and include activities which most people wouldn’t generally expect to be a self-care or recharging practice. Somethings which may energize or inspire you may seem strange to other people but don’t be afraid to write what is true for you. This can really make a big difference and this is the big advantage of creating a personalized self care kit rather than following generic self care practices. You can build a much more complete kit for yourself by including things that are unique to you.

It could be watching a video from a specific influencer that you find inspiring, or reading a challenging book. Some things that are unique to my kit are watching a music documentary, learning to play a song on the guitar and jamming it out with the volume cranked up, and watching a movie with one of my favourite comedy actors.

“In the trance of daily life we can be so organised around shoulds that we lose touch with what we love”
– Tara Brach

Let what you love be what you do

Try to really honour yourself and create space and time for the activities on your list. If you are the type of person who tends to slip in to prioritizing work or doing things for other people ahead of yourself it can be very helpful to actually schedule in your self-care activities. Put them in your calendar and protect them as you would any important meeting. After all, it is a very important meeting: a meeting with life, for yourself. If you think that sounds selfish, consider that you won’t have anything to give to others if you are depleted and empty. Caring for others begins with caring for ourselves.

Weaving Self Care in to Integration

Making time for these activities is especially important in the days and weeks following a psychedelic experience. Psychedelics increase neuroplasticity which means that you are more able to create new connections between neurons in the brain. In plainer English, this means it is a great opportunity for re-wiring; creating new patterns of thought and behaviour. This is a way of wearing in newer, healthier and more self compassionate grooves into your day-to-day life. It can be useful to do this exercise before a psychedelic experience so you have your personalized kit ready afterwards.

Best of luck and take care, of yourself

Using rituals for psychedelic experiences can help to help bring a sense of presence, clarity, and feelings of safety to the experience. Ritual can also help connect to something bigger and help to mark the occasion out as something special, something that is beyond an everyday experience.

Before talking about how it can help with psychedelic practice, though, I’d like to give some examples of ritual and how it’s used by high performers as a means to help them in some way focus their attention, enter a specific state, and perform better.

Athletes’ Rituals

Many professional athletes use rituals. For example, a football player having very specific ways of doing things before either heading out onto the pitch or when setting up for a penalty.

One ritual I love is used by one of the greatest sport teams in the world: the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team. At the beginning of every game the entire team performs the Haka.

The Haka is a traditional ancestral ritual from the Māori people of New Zealand. It is a fierce dance and chanting ritual that connects the team to their ancestors, to their history, and to the lineage of their land.

This ritual in particular helps the players connect to something beyond themselves, to connect to something bigger. By doing so, they understand that they are part of a lineage that extends beyond the players on the pitch. With its fierce nature, I imagine the ritual also gets the players absolutely pumped up, blood pumping in their veins, ready to face anything when the first whistle blows.

Creatives’ Rituals

Another example is writer Stephen Pressfield, whose books have been a huge inspiration to me. Pressfield says a prayer to the muse every morning when he enters his office to write. For him, his office is a sacred space. The prayer is one part of a series of actions he does before starting to write that also includes putting on specific clothes.

Other examples that I love are from musicians who have backstage rituals before going out on stage for a show or performers who have some special sentence or prayer that is said before stepping out onto stage or heading out to film an especially intense scene.

Rituals Develop Focus

Rituals are normally performed in such a way that the person is highly focused on the task. The way they carry out the ritual is not in some absent-minded, haphazard way, but rather in a highly focused, very attentive, and precise manner. Doing actions in such a way helps to bring someone into the present moment and helps to focus the mind. Indeed, if someone does anything in a very meticulous manner it can seem as if they are performing some ritual. I am reminded of some of the Ramen chefs I saw in Japan, whose attention to detail made it fascinating to watch and their work an art and craft in itself.

Ritual helps to enter a different state of awareness and can therefore be used as part of a psychedelic session.

Using Rituals for a Psychedelic Experience

Following a Set Structure

Ritual can also mean something that is done every time in a certain order. This can be almost a kind of a muscle memory, in that knowing that one thing proceeds to the next can enable you to clearly move from one thing to the other, giving your whole attention to it without engaging the part of your mind that has to make decisions (asking yourself, “What should I do next?”). For example, having a morning ritual allows you to wake up and not think about whether you should have a coffee or take a shower. If you have a set morning ritual, perhaps you just wake up, get a glass of hot lemon water, stretch, meditate, and then take a cold shower. You did not need to think, you just move from one to the next. This can be helpful when taking psychedelics, as making decisions can be very difficult and it can be very helpful to have a structure in place that you simply follow, moving from one stage to the next.

Ritual as a container

Rituals can also help mark the beginning and end of events. Just like a frame around a picture or piece of art helps to bring more attention to the contents, a ritual can be used to frame a psychedelic experience, to focus your attention to what is going on inside, and function as a type of container for the experience. Having this clear delineation can be useful for psychedelic ceremonies because it helps in feeling safe during what can be a wild and crazy experience.

Using rituals to help contain psychedelic experiences can help to bring feelings of safety to the experience. Ritual can also help connect to something bigger and help to mark the occasion out as something special, something that is beyond an everyday experience.

Ideas for Rituals

There are many ways to ritualize the taking of psychedelic substances, so here are just a few examples. Maybe you already have a pre-session protocol, but here are some ideas:

Washing

Washing yourself and arriving to the session clean can help to feel more comfortable and relaxed. The sensations of water can also help bring you to your body, especially if it is in a natural body of water or a cold shower. A hot bath is also wonderfully relaxing.

Clothes

Wearing a certain or special set of clothes. Maybe you have a lucky top, a favourite or most comfortable t-shirt. Maybe you would like to dress up for ceremony as you would for any special occasion. If you put on a shirt for work, why not put on something specific for a session?

Prayer

Saying a prayer can help to humble yourself and to open yourself up to possibilities of experience. Saying a prayer, religious or not, is in some way acknowledging that there are things that are out of your control.

Giving thanks

This is, again, humbling and a good practice for that reason. I think it can be good to give thanks even just as a mental exercise before consuming a substance. You’re again acknowledging that you are part of something larger and also being thankful and appreciating what you do have. I also think it is a nice way to close the session and a great opportunity to develop gratitude.

If you are with friends or a group you can maybe just go once round the group with each person, saying one thing that you are all grateful for. This can help to bring up warm feelings at the beginning of the session and start out on a positive note.

Altar

Having an altar can be a nice addition to a session or ceremony and needn’t be a religious thing. It can be as simple as having a set place with items that are dear to you. These could be photos of people, like family/friends, an image of someone you have a great respect or admiration for, or precious memories that you have. These things can be comforting to have with you by your side when you journey. What they represent symbolically will be magnified and can be of great support. When you think of them you gain some type of strength or inspiration.

The items that you choose may also be carefully chosen based on the theme of the session. For example, if you are thinking about your family, add some items and pictures that remind you of your family members. Or, if you are considering creativity, perhaps you add some of your heroes or role models from music, art, or science to your makeshift altar.

Ritualise Your Psychedelic Sessions

Ritual needn’t be complicated and you can start very simple and small. A friend of mine once put on bombtrack while we were taking our first dose of MDMA, which I thought was a nice touch. Ritual needn’t follow any kind of preset idea, you can be creative and come up with your own, too.