I’m a psychedelic survivor.
No, wait. I said that incorrectly.
I have survived because of psychedelics.
There, that’s better.
Now, people have varying opinions about this class of drug…and all drugs which are used by some for fun and recreation.
This is a big subject, and I hope to unpack it, but let me disclose my bias at the outset: Illegal psychedelic drugs saved my life.
True story. I’ll get into that in a minute. Settle in: it’s a long one.
The backstory of all of this, of course is Calvinism: the deep, inchoate Protestant fear that someone, somewhere is having a good time.
Pleasure phobia is deeply baked into Western culture. It is hypocritical, of course, in countries awash in alcohol and caffeine, but there it is. We have demonized mind-altering substances, with only a couple of exceptions.
Fear mongering and indoctrination from an early age have frightened whole generations of people into a childish, reflexive fear of such substances which results in a number of dysfunctional responses, including an authority-flouting tendency among many young adults not only to use them, but to use them to excess and under dangerous circumstances.
Not to mention the criminalization of such usage and the wholesale railroading of millions of people–overwhelmingly people of color–into the criminal justice pipeline simply because they enjoy altering their perceptions in a manner not sanctioned by their societies. Mostly completely harmlessly.
The result of all this puritanical nonsense has in the end been complete and utter disaster, suffering and ignorance. Countless have been imprisoned, their lives ruined. Research into the beneficial uses of these substances has been choked to a tiny trickle for decades. Without study, there are only anecdotal reports and amateur research, little of which has any traction with the established canons of academia.
It has literally taken the aging of an entire generation of people who experienced psychedelics in their youth into “respectability” as doctors and scientists and litigators and legislators to mature our culture even to the point of considering that they might have some legitimate usages.
But that generational shift has happened, and now we have solid scientific evidence that drugs such as psilocybin, ketamine and MDMA have extraordinary potential for treating such conditions as PTSD and depression.
I have lived with crippling depression since elementary school, and the miserable, alternately abusive and indifferent household I grew up in—and the utter disconnect of the Baptist/Mormon foster homes thereafter—ensured that when I emerged on my own at 17 to move away and start working my way through college, I was a thorough psychological mess.
Ask anyone who knew me in my 20s. I was just…well. An offputting mix of screamingly insecure and too smart for his own good and absolutely unfamiliar with how to deal with others and flailing—flailing—to somehow come to a place of centeredness and calm. Manic, pompous, histrionic…a psychological disaster.
With a sweet heart down in there, somewhere. But under a lot of layers of pain, anger, reactivity, and bullshit. I was intermittently suicidal. I smoked like a chimney. I stepped suddenly into traffic, daring it to kill me.
I hated myself. I was on my way to dying young.
And then came MDMA.
It’s a long story, and a more personal one than I care to go into in detail. But the synopsis is what matters: a deep, loving relationship coupled with several experiences with Ecstasy over the period of two years completely changed me and my view of the world.
She was older than me by 11 years, and wise for her age. A grounded person, and deeply familiar with the emotional landscapes I floundered in. She was kind, and forgiving; creative and loving. There were things I offered (somehow) that she needed or wanted, and certainly who she was and what she offered were a desperately needed tonic to me.
It couldn’t last, and it didn’t. But it changed me forever.
Central to that change were the brief windows, six hours at a time, when the world was an exquisitely beautiful place, and I—like all of us—was a luminous, extraordinary being.
When I was on MDMA.
The marvelous thing about that experience is that after you come down, you don’t forget what you have seen. For a depressive, the ability to see the world and myself in this way was healing in a way I cannot possibly describe.
And this is the power of psychedelics. Once you have seen it, you cannot unsee it.
Now, many years later, a more whole and healthy person, I have very few opportunities and not much inclination to experiment with psychedelics. I may have done them three times in the past ten years.
But I remain permanently changed by them, and by the antidepressants I finally acquiesced to taking in the early 2000s. They, too, are psychoactive drugs, though not psychedelics. And so I call myself an obligate psychonaut: a person who depends on—indeed, cannot survive without— psychologically impactful drugs.
I do not make a moral distinction between these two classes of drugs. Indeed, I think it would be hypocrisy to do so. One was an acute intervention; the other is an ongoing support.
The result is that I am happy, functional, and the person my current friends know today.
When I created the Atheopagan Principles, there were a lot of reasons for #10: Pleasure Positivity. I believe that joy and happiness and pleasure are our birthrights: physical pleasure, emotional pleasure, intellectual pleasure, sexual pleasure. But specifically, I wanted to refuse the puritanical, joy-hating convention of the Overculture which rejects the value and legitimacy of experiences such as those we have on psychedelics.
I write all this to lay my cards on the table. I was saved by psychedelics, and I believe many others could be, too. I believe there is a deep kindness and a moral obligation for us to learn what we can about how best to deliver our fellow humans from the hells that our minds can create, and our abusers can arrange.
I support the legalization of psychedelic drugs. Yes, some will abuse them, but probably not any more than abuse them now, under the shadow of law enforcement.
And I wish—truly, I truly wish, so much—that every human on Earth could have the experience of MDMA in a loving setting. Just once.
It would change everything.
Image is “Shaman”, by Manzel