What does it seem to do?
In the fifteen years after Stan Grof, the Czech med student turned research psychiatrist, first had his stunning experience with LSD in 1954, he conducted more LSD therapy sessions than anyone in the world, involving hundreds of patients and thousands of doses. In the remarkable variability of subjects’ experiences after taking the drug, Grof observed a pattern: it seemed that precisely the psychological and emotional issues most relevant to each particular subject would, without special prompting, find a way to emerge in the therapy sessions. And in each subsequent session, the subject would explore the issue at ever deeper levels until the root of the problem was reached, and often resolved.1
Why does it work?
People realize they can change.
As disquieting as this vision was, it told him something transformational: he had made himself who he was, and with the assistance of the LSD experience he could change.1
People realize they are more than their identity.
The psychedelic experience, Grof concluded, not only produced healing but often led people to a certain view of the universe and their place in it, a set of values based on a direct perception that they were more than their identity as male or female, white or colored, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Hindu, or Buddhist. If the mystical experience afforded by psychedelics allowed people to identify themselves not by ego or tribe or nation but as part of a universal life force shared by all, then it would follow that they would become less threatened by diversity, more tolerant, and better able to live together without trying to kill one another.1
The important stuff comes up.
Johnson estimates that he has sat through over sixty psychedelic sessions with volunteer subjects at Johns Hopkins. “Something astonishing happens. The important issues for each person just come up naturally. They know what the issues are deep down. Afterward, people feel like they have done the heavy lifting. It feels like they have taken real ownership of their problems.”2
It’s hard work.
“Rather than a psychedelic experience being an easy way to achieve growth, many subjects report that the subject’s sense of work done during the drug session entails as much suffering and exhaustion as would be encountered in several years of living.”
Pahnke and Richards did acknowledge, however, that the hard work often “comes after the experience when insights must be integrated.”2
The importance of the therapist
This quote references DMT.
But it became clear that giving people the short-acting DMT alone, without therapy, was no guarantee of lasting benefit. And some of the experiences it induced were so disturbing, they left the subjects who experienced them with even less certainty about the meaning of their lives than when they began.
This negative consequence would eventually affect Strassman himself.1
Stay with it.
But that never proved necessary: the techniques he was learning-staying with the feeling, not fleeing it, moving through it-“had a cumulative effect of not only resolving that experience but resolving that gestalt we all carry.”1
Go with the flow.
“Good,” Michael says softly, nodding. “It can be really useful to identify that intention and then let go of any idea of what that should look like. You may find yourself having experiences that don’t look like that at the time and then later you realize, ‘Oh, wow. Look at the way that healing intelligence responded to that intention in a way I never would have expected.’ That’s kind of the beauty of it. Rather than a plan in your rational mind, go with the healing intelligence. The medicine will respond to that intention.”
In other words, don’t push the river, which seems to be good advice for both psychedelic drugs trips, and life itself. One of the secrets to a successful session with MDMA or psilocybin is getting out of your own way. Stop trying to control your thoughts or feelings. Go with the flow. Face your fears. Don’t try to hide or repress them.2
Intentions and preparation.
It may be that there is a more general increase in the potential for neuroplastic change in the brain. So the kind of change you would have, if there were any change, would depend on what your intentions were, what kind of change you were hoping to achieve, and what you did about it.
That’s why preparatory therapy and post-psychedelic integration sessions are key to producing long-term change. It’s also what makes the therapeutic use of psychedelics different from recreational use.2
“Perhaps it’s not surprising,” Bogenschutz said, “that if someone went to a party and wanted to have a weird experience and they took psilocybin, they would have a weird experience and it wouldn’t necessarily change them in any particular way. Even with these very profound mystical experiences that people have, if they are not part of some kind of more organized effort to change, they are not necessarily going to make that much difference to people.”2
More on preparation.
“It’s the insight these drugs give people into their own lives.”
“Yes,” Johnson replied, “That’s why preparation is so important, and that when someone comes out of these sessions it’s important that they engage in a therapeutic process. The drug is just a key that unlocks the door. It’s more about the person, their history, their intentions than about any particular substances. All we do is provide the environment for the people to do their own work.”
“Johnson has studied the work of pioneers like Sasha Shulgin’s friend, the Jungian analyst Leo Zeff, who interjected himself in his early psychedelic sessions-guiding, talking, intervening. Then he discovered that the hands-off approach worked best.
“Folks doing this work realized you prepare people and build this great rapport with people and make sure they feel safe. But once the (psychedelic) substance is on board, you kind of just shut up and let the magic happen. You are there for support and to be there for them to integrate it.”
“We need to encourage people to take these insights seriously,” Johnson said. “One of the things that happens with recreational use is that someone may have one of the most profound experiences of their life, but the next day their buddy says something like, ‘Oh, man! You were so messed up! Less mushrooms next time for you.’ Then the person is encouraged to distance himself or herself from the experience and from whatever strong feelings of authenticity that they had during the experience. With therapy, it’s the opposite. It’s, ‘Let’s talk about your session. What was happening? How is it a window into yourself?’”2
“What made the Johns Hopkins program work for him was “combining a caring team of researchers with a comprehensive support system in conjunction with the psilocybin.”
“None of these components,” he says, “would be as effective if used individually.”2
If you’re looking for a legal way to do psychedelic therapy in the meantime before psilocybin is approved by the FDA, here’s a list of places that offer truffle (essentially the same as mushroom) retreats in Amsterdam, where these seem to be legal. E.g. the following seems good, only a ~$400-500 round trip flight from many places of the USA.