Entheogens and Psychedelics

Dear Molly, 

I have recently been getting into ceremonial use of entheogens and find myself becoming increasingly annoyed with how I see these medicines being used. I am ashamed that I have used them for as anything other than for sacred healing but don’t know how to explain this to my friends who I feel still don’t get it. What should I do? 

-Sacred Medicines

Greetings Sacred, 

I am so glad to hear that you have discovered another way in which to use what you have called entheogens (meaning literally the god within). If we look throughout cultures, time, and different types of life we can see that entheogens or psychedelics are commonplace for ritual, initiation, healing, convening with deities, and for fun. The Achuar of the Amazon use the amazonian brew ayahuasca for initiation into adulthood. When a young boy or girl is around 11, they ingest the brew alone or with a few other kids of the same gender to signify the end of childhood. Dolphins group together and pass around an angry pufferfish that releases a poison that produces a psychedelic effect. Ibogaine is a powerful psychedelic from West Africa used for showing a young adult their life’s path and has been known to aid in heroin addiction. So, as you can see there are many ways to utilize psychoactive substances. They can be entheogens for experiencing God, they can be psychedelics for healing trauma, or they can be drugs used for stamina and ecstatic experience at an all night dance party. The thing I have come to see is that there is no right way. However, you bring up a relevant observation on seeing how you have only focused on one way of utilizing entheogens. The overuse of psychedelics as a solely recreational drug has caused detrimental impacts in your time. Research is difficult to get approved and the social perception of psychoactive substances is typically viewed as shameful and bad. Now that you have discovered how healing and sacred these medicines are, it is natural to change your relationship to them. However, dearest writer, do not feel shame around your previous use or externalize your shame by placing judgement on your friends. You are simply learning. Everyone in your generation, in your culture, in your time are finally starting to receive the education they need to make intelligent and conscious choices around these medicines. The greatest thing you can do is to be an ally and support your friends in their choices. You can share with them your knowledge and introduce them to the gamut of possibilities for exploring consciousness with entheogens.  

With love, 



Dear Molly

Dear Molly, 

I recently went to a festival and saw someone having a really bad trip on psychedelics. To my surprise, that person was being helped by a team of harm reduction people. I thought it was really cool because that person was freaking out but I mean that person just couldn’t handle the drugs right? I have done psychedelics so many times and that has never happened to me. Could you tell me more about psychedelic harm reduction and why some people freak out on psychedelics?

Freaked on Psychedelics

Greetings Freaked,

Thanks for your question. In helping your culture make place for the psychedelic experience, it may be helpful for me to explain to you what is happening in a psychedelic state of consciousness. The word psychedelic literally means mind expanding and has been used across cultures for healing, ritual, fun, and initiation into adulthood. Although even in my time science has a hard time pinpointing the exact functioning of psychedelics in the body, we do know that they work on deep psychological processes. Stanislov Grof, a psychologist and long time researcher of psychedelic states notes that the brain processes and integrates unconsciously held past occurrences that could be manifesting in physical, mental, or transpersonal disruption during these states. Because of this, psychedelics can invoke incredibly difficult experiences for people which can bemoments of intense growth given a proper supported context. So when you say “freak out” I think of how frightened I would be if I were deep in a psychedelic consciousness without any understanding of what was actually happening outside of the narrative your culture feeds you about the cracking egg being your brain on all drugs. So you may use the term freak out, which is true in a sense, but I invite you to look at it from a different perspective. Try on the words difficult journey. By using this term, we can begin to deconstruct and understand the experience better. We can relate that everyone has difficult journeys at points. We can think from our hearts and realize that perhaps that what these individuals need is compassionate support, something not typically offered to someone undergoing these types of experiences in your culture. You may not have had that caliber of an experience yet, but it can happen at any moment. Your consciousness or that of the collective consciousness that you are tapping into on psychedelics may decide to work through something right during the middle of a music festival for example. That is where festival harm reduction comes in. It is interesting to think that there was a time where your culture completely looked over the need for such harm reduction services at festivals. It has been well known that festivals are havens of drug use but because of liability for the festival, they wouldn’t dare admit that they needed help in providing assistance to people having difficult experiences. But we have come to realize this is a mandatory service at festivals. Isn’t it weird to think that at one point your culture completely ignored the vast research and cultural records of support, context, and setting for people engaging with some of the most powerful medicines on the planet? 

Let me show you what can happen when we provide support to those in these types of consciousness. This is taken from an artist who, like yourself, had many experiences with psychedelics previously:

I wonder what would have happened to this piece of art and artist if instead of being supported in this he was sent to the hospital and tranquilized like so many people are. This artist ended up having a complete death rebirth experience and was completely inspired by his difficult journey. So, to answer your questions, it is not so much that the person cannot handle the psychedelics, it is more so that your cultural context for psychedelics has not given you the tools to engage in the best possible of ways with these states. Harm reduction services are one way that we are spreading education and creating containers for people to be with their experiences without the shame or dangers that come from needing help in psychedelic states. These difficult moments are gifts and insights into the functioning of the biggest mystery to science, consciousness. I wish you the best of luck in your journeys, hope this helps.