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April 22, 2019

How Psychedelics Changed my Life

Seeing as we just passed the two major psychedelic holidays of the year, (Bicycle Day, which celebrates the anniversary of the world’s first ever acid trip on April 19th, and 4/20 on the following day, celebrated by stoners everywhere,) I wanted to share with you about my first psychedelic trip.

When I was 18 years old, I had my first experience with magic mushrooms, and it changed my life.

I spent most of my teenage years chronically depressed, and suicidal. My health was horrible and I was extremely overweight. I neglected to do anything about my health and abandoned my school work, often ditching class to either go sleep, make art, or listen to extreme metal music. (I thought drugs were for losers at this point.) I was doing nothing that would support a positive future for myself because I frequently told myself that I was going to kill myself and my future didn’t matter because I wasn’t going to have one. I never made any real attempt at this, but this was the narrative that repeated in my head.

The main things that got me through those times was a passion for art and music and the catharsis I found in those art forms. By the time I turned 18, my depression had already begun to heal. When I was 17 my father somehow convinced me to come with him to meditation groups with renowned Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield, and I would go and meditate with middle aged Buddhists in Marin county wearing leather jackets patched up with bands whose members had burned churches and killed their bandmates. Despite my devotion to suffering, the meditation started to make a real and noticeable difference. It felt really good when I meditated. It calmed my mind and quieted my often violent thoughts. I also left my high school where I felt estranged and alienated to go to art school to study drawing and painting, which I was actually good at, and it helped me establish higher self esteem.

It was exposure to psychedelics through artists like Alex Grey and Android Jones, and the visuals and music of Tool, that first made me curious about them. I loved the beautiful and psychedelic artwork that they created, and these artists espoused that psychedelic experiences were at the root of their creativity. My love for The Beatles and the known influence that LSD had on their music also provoked interest. It probably doesn’t hurt that my parents showed me and my sister the acid-drenched Beatles’ Yellow Submarine movie over and over again as a little kid, too.

During the black metal years of my adolescence I was a staunch atheist, or even anti-theist, and I judged everyone who held spiritual beliefs as weak and stupid. I was proud that the author of the Satanic Bible, Anton LaVey, went to my High School. I was one of his apostles. Once I began to quiet my mind in meditation, and having had some powerful experiences with lucid dreaming, I began to open up to the possibilities of a spiritual dimension to existence. I became an agnostic. The famous 70’s hippie-guru Ram Dass helped me make the first forays into exploring the possibilities of spiritual experiences, and also catalysed my curiosity for psychedelics. I also read The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley, which opened my mind to the idea that not everyone who took drugs was an absolute loser, and that there was interesting and intellectually stimulating material to be found there.

And so I did it. And the results were life changing.

I scored some Psilocybe Cubensis mushrooms from a friend who I played music with, and planned to dose the weekend after. I locked myself in my room by myself and put on George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass (Harrison’s experiences with psychedelics in the 1960’s influenced his consequent exploration of yoga and music on its themes in the 1970’s.) Then I put on a sleep mask, and ate 2.5 grams of the dried mushrooms. This model of tripping is actually very similar to the model of psychedelic therapy exercised by organisations such as MAPS in working with patients with terminal illness diagnoses, who take psilocybin to help ease their anxiety around their mortality.

After I ate the mushrooms, which tasted kinda awful, I waited, got into a meditative state, listened to the music, and I tuned in, turned on, and floated down stream. I had been reading Ram Dass and Huxley and I was open to the potential that this experience could be a powerful, transcendent, and mystical one. I was in a good state of mind, and I trusted the medicine completely.

I remember at first feeling a sort of buzz throughout my body. As I laid there and let the music carry me away I remember a feeling that was like ascending through a portal into another dimension, or going up the ramp on a roller coaster before dropping down. Anticipation was building. Eventually there was a crescendo, and I lost track of what was going on. I remember laughing and laughing for no reason at all about absolutely nothing as tears streamed down my cheeks. The feeling was amazing, like the kind of rapture I can only imagine being touched by angels or divine beings would feel like. It was like the summer sun coming out to warm my soul after years and years of a cold and tormenting winter. It was like a concentration of all of the good feelings in life put together. My body was bathed in tears of joy.

I didn’t know who I was. I didn’t remember my name. I couldn’t name the town I was in or tell you anything about my personal history. I experienced what I would later learn is called an “Ego Dissolution Experience” and it felt GOOD. If I hadn’t had some experience with meditation already, I may have found the experience scary. But the truth is that letting go of all of my ideas and concepts about who I thought I was and what reality was was the most liberating thing I had felt before in my entire life. I was reduced to something that is hard to put into words. “I” wasn’t there anymore, but I was completely awake and completely present. What was left could be loosely defined as “pure love” or “clear present awareness.” Some might call it consciousness. I knew no distinction from myself and any other being or thing.

For so many years I had been attached to a toxic story that I was a dark, melancholic, misanthropic boy who was cursed to a life of suffering for reasons I didn’t understand. I perceived myself as prideful, cynical, and a little cruel, and vastly superior to everyone else. I only wore black. I was honestly kind of an asshole. Like a strong breath blowing out a candle flame, all of that was cleansed away during this journey. I saw myself and who I was in my essence to be full of love, sweetness, and enthusiasm about life. I saw that this story that I had adopted was a way to protect myself, to try to keep myself from being hurt in an environment where other people had not been kind to me and I in turn had not been kind to them. This journey taught me that I was safe, so safe. And that I was loved, so loved. This trip basically transformed me from a death metal hesher to a third eye evangelist overnight.

I continued to giggle like a little girl and roll around on the bed listening to music for about 2 or 3 hours. Eventually I made my way out of bed and came to look at myself in the mirror with the silliest grin I’ve ever seen. I beamed at myself like I was the love of my life. I drew a self portrait during this journey that I still have, that’s extremely rough but captures that huge and silly grin that was plastered onto my face. I will keep this drawing for the rest of my life.

Eventually I went for a walk in nature. The trees and plants were literally breathing with life. I saw the orgiastic display of the forest, all things in a constant process of creation. It was sexual. All of nature was breeding with itself all the time, and giving birth, and then dying to become soil to fuel this process again. I saw myself within that same process. I saw myself and my part in the cycle of life. As I breathed in and out I noticed how interconnected I was with this forest, and how my life gave life to it, and it gave life to me.

Eventually the psychedelic effects died down, leaving me with a gracious afterglow. It was like I just had the best sex of my life, only I actually had dissolved into oneness with the Universe so it was probably even better. The entire experience, from come up to come down, lasted about 5 hours.

You gain a lot of cliché realisations from this kind of experience. It’s all stuff we’ve heard a million times but the difference is that you KNOW. You don’t know, in an intellectual sense with tiny lowercase letters, you KNOW, in every fibre of your being. It’s not like seeing a meme on Instagram that is mildly uplifting and inspiring, it’s like Moses having an experience of gnosis on the Mount. You KNOW that all there is and will ever be is Love, which is a word that could be interchangeable with God, meaning infinite benign creative intelligence. You KNOW that the consciousness that experiences all things is eternal and undying and that our small and fragile ego selves are only an identity we put on temporarily and then let go of when we die, like putting on and taking off a piece of clothing. You KNOW that all of the small shit our world fights over is petty and ridiculous and we could be spending our lives cooperating, loving each other, making art and creating beauty on this planet if more people realised how connected we all are.

I still get depressed sometimes, but this journey genuinely healed me of years and years of chronic depression. It was like 5 years of talk therapy in 5 hours. And for months later, after only one experience, I was still feeling the effects. In fact I would say that nearly ten years later, the ripples of this experience are still ringing out and that I would still name it as one of the most positive and influential experiences of my life thus far.

Psychedelics and their potential for healing and transformation are coming more and more into the mainstream with books like Michael Pollan’s How to Change Your Mind which is a widely read best seller. MDMA is close to legalisation for use in therapy with PTSD patients and psilocybin and other related psychedelics are also being researched and found to have extraordinary potential for healing a variety of psycho-spiritual illnesses. I think we are at a point where psychedelics are no longer being completely banished under a taboo of fear and paranoia as they once were in the 1960’s, and are instead beginning to be understood to have genuinely positive potentials for use in therapy, spiritual practice, and for creativity.

Just because I had an experience that was positive and transformative with psychedelics doesn’t mean that there is no potential for harm with them. Physiologically speaking the classic psychedelics are extremely safe. That said I will admit I have had some journeys which were profoundly uncomfortable, frightening, and psychologically destabilizing. These experiences, to go into the depth of which would require another article, have actually turned out to be positive because they have taught me the dangers of my own mind and how to navigate it better. But that doesn’t change the fact that they sucked while they were happening. I also have several friends who have been admitted into mental hospitals from psychosis triggered by psychedelics. Two of these cases involved suicide attempts under their influence.

Bottom line, psychedelics demand respect. They should be used with respect to the power they hold, and not taken casually. The journeyer should be prepared to face themselves fully, and know themselves well enough to be able to handle potential experiences which could completely shatter their ideas about themselves, their lives, and reality. The well laid-down ground rules of proper set and setting apply to each and everyone who undertakes such an experience, whether in a traditional ceremony, a legally guided therapy trip, or in an underground and illicit context.

We live in an exciting time when the potential for the legalisation of psychedelics and their use in therapy is increasing exponentially. Due to a new wave of research and education, as well as their popularity within the technology bubble of Silicon Valley, people are waking up to the fact that not all drugs are bad and not all drugs are the same, and the unique class of drugs called psychedelics and it’s cousin MDMA can in some cases be profoundly beneficial for certain people in certain circumstances. In some places like Amsterdam and Portugal, certain psychedelics like psilocybin are already decriminalised. I personally think psychedelics greatly assisted me in my development and I would someday like to see them made legally available to any people who are well prepared, psychologically sound, and feel called to have these experiences.

If hearing about my experience inspired you, I would like to let you know that I am excited to be co-facilitating an immersive retreat this summer near Amsterdam which offers group psilocybin truffle experiences with guided trip sitters and integration, and I will be offering an intensive on how to create psychedelic art during the week. I would love for you to join us this summer. For more info visit:

Art by Martin Bridge. 

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