How can you increase the likelihood of having a mystical psychedelic experience? A paper by from the Imperial College Research Centre team details four clear indicators that increase the likelihood of a mystical experience:

– Feeling ready to ‘surrender’ to the experience.

– Having a clear intention for the experience.

– Having the experience in a therapeutic setting.

– Taking a higher dose.

 

The model above from the paper, shows that the same four factors, plus being in the company of well-trusted individuals, was protective against a ‘challenging’ psychological experience (AKA a ‘bad trip’).

These findings, based on data from the psychedelic survey project, again show the importance of set, setting, and dose when it comes to the outcome of a psychedelic experience. In particular, they show how these variables can be used to increase the likelihood of having a certain kind of psychedelic experience which the researchers label ‘peak’ – an intentionally secular term inspired by Abraham Maslow’s work – that can effectively be viewed as a synonymous with the concept of a ‘mystical’ experience.

“Mystical experiences, which typically are extremely ephemeral and unpredictable, can actually be catalyzed in a fairly reliable and replicable way with correct use of psychedelic substance (that is, if carefully prepared volunteers, with worthwhile goals and in a comfortable and uplifting setting, are given the right dosage”

G. William Barnard – Foreword to Sacred Knowledge

You can read the full paper online here:
Psychedelics and the essential importance of context

The picture trip is a technique that was employed by a pioneer of psychedelic therapy, Leo Zeff. It is done as part of the preparation and also during the psychedelic session itself.

This description of the method is from the book about Leo: The Secret Chief Revealed.

Preparation

To do this exercise you will need to gather some photos before the trip. These photos will form a history of your life. Go back home or get them wherever you are or write for them. Get all the pictures that you can and bring them to wherever you are.

Pictures to Gather:

  • Yourself, one at age two and one every two years thereafter through adolescence, up to adulthood.
  • Two pictures each of your mother, father and any siblings; one when they were young but you can still remember them, and a recent one.
  • Pictures of any other family members that are or were significant in your life.
  • A picture of your husband/wife, or any woman or man who has had great significance in your life. Lovers, current or past. If you’re married, wedding pictures.
  • A picture of a grandparent that was significant in your life.
  • If you have children, a picture of them when they were about two years old, and a recent one.
  • Any other significant pictures. Any pictures with an emotional charge.

As you collect the photos

“I ask them to select the pictures in this manner: Gather them all together—boxes, albums, however they are, and put them in front of you, and start with one. The top one or anything like that.

Pick it up and look at it. Just look at it to see what you experience in connection with that picture. Look at it a little while. You may not experience anything. It’s all right. Put it aside, pick up the next one, then look at it. If it provokes any memories, kinda sit with the memories a little bit, let them go where they want to go. Whatever feelings you have, allow them to be there. Whenever you come across a picture that’s on the list, set it aside in a separate pile. Go through all the pictures you’ve got, every single one of them, doing that. You may have to have two or three sittings to do it.

I ask them to do it no further away than a week before the trip, as close to the time of the trip as they can. I want to tell you something. That really turns them on. When they come they’re in the middle of their trip.”

During the session

A few hours into the trip, when you’re functional and can move around, get up and sit down at a table to do the picture trip.

Start out with pictures of yourself. Take the first one.

“Just look at it, just look at it and see what you experience. Look at it as long as you want to. When you’re through looking at it, hand it back. If you have anything to say, fine. Say it. If not, you don’t have to say anything.”

One at a time go through the pictures.

“The pictures, they don’t react much to the two- to four-year-old pictures. Some time around the age of six is a very significant picture for them. That’s the point in life where we lose our naturalness and we start taking on the acts of the world and behaving the way people tell us to and start squelching our own naturalness. Frequently they get to that picture and they start to cry. And cry and cry and cry.”

This can be really powerful exercise and help to stir things up or move things around in the emotional body. The beginning of these movements can help to shift something inside. The first time I used the photo trip remains one of my singular most powerful and releasing journeys of my life and as Leo says happens with most people, I cried and cried, and cried. It was beautiful. Try it out!

You can find the book about Leo as a pdf on the MAPS website: The Secret Chief Revealed. I can absolutely recommend it for both journeyers and tripsitters.

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.”
Here is a short list of what I have found to be the most useful resources that I’ve found online about psychedelics. The breadth of information you can find out with these websites is incredibly wide and includes:
  • effects, length of duration, routes of administration
  • info about various interactions between different substances
  • practical, step by step guides, dosages
  • scientific info, such as the structures of compounds and what brain receptors different drugs work on
  • historical and cultural info
  • people’s personal experiences AKA trip reports

Erowid

Erowid is a non-profit educational & harm-reduction resource with 60 thousand pages of online information about psychoactive drugs, plants, chemicals, and more. Erowid documents legal and illegal substances, including their intended and adverse effects.
Information is gathered from diverse sources including published literature, experts in related fields, and the experiences of the general public. Erowid acts as a publisher of new information as well as a library for the collection of documents and images published elsewhere.
Running since 1995 and with their headquarters are based in California, it is the oldest on this list and also the most complete. As a member-supported organization, their mission is to provide access to reliable, non-judgmental information.
Here is their vision:
“We imagine a world where people treat psychoactives with respect and awareness; where people work together to collect and share knowledge in ways that strengthen their understanding of themselves and provide insight into the complex choices faced by individuals and societies alike.
We believe that truth, accuracy, and integrity in publishing information about psychoactives will lead to healthier and more balanced choices, behaviors, and policies around all psychoactive medications, entheogens, herbs, and recreational drugs. Erowid’s vision is to facilitate and create resources that are part of the evolution towards this goal.”

PsychonautWiki

PsychonautWiki is a community-driven online encyclopedia that aims to document the field of psychonautics in a comprehensive, scientifically-grounded manner.

What it sounds like, PsychonautWiki is Wikipedia for Psychonauts. Tonnes of useful info and in the familiar format of Wikipedia.

Their primary motivations include:

  • documenting all aspects of psychonautic theory and practice (including meditation, lucid dreaming, psychoactive substance use, sensory deprivation, ritual, etc.) from an evidence-based, academic perspective
  • providing accessible education, encouraging safe practices, and reforming cultural taboos around the responsible use of psychoactive substances, utilizing both expert and crowd-based sources
  • promoting a culture of free thought and individual responsibility by safeguarding the information needed to make informed decisions over altering one’s consciousness.

Reddit

Though not exclusively about psychedelics Reddit is a great place to be able to ask people and communities questions on specific topics and get answers from a range of people.
Sometimes if I have a question I’d like to put out there and hear others’ thoughts I’ll put it up on reddit.
lsd reddit

The LSD subreddit

Reddit has subreddits on almost everything, which are basically subgroups dedicated to topics e.g. shrooms, LSD, psychonaut, psychedelics and even more niche like Psychedelic studies, psychedelicrock and psilocybin growers.
I have reddit especially useful to read about other peoples experience with combining different types of drugs or drug interactions.
However, don’t always expect the kindest responses and be prepared for some weirdos!
.

Think Wilder Compilation

Finally, check out this great compliation from Think Wilder:

The Best Psychedelic Blogs and Publications in 2020