What do we know about the history of psychedelics? Where do psychedelics come from? And how did psychedelics change over time in society?
The word ‘‘Psychedelic’’ comes from the Greek, meaning ‘‘mind manifesting”. Through psychedelics, the potential of our brain can be explored, perceptions can be altered, and more of the world around us can be revealed. Others prefer the term ‘‘Entheogen’’, meaning “that which causes God to be within an individual.’’ Yet either way you want to describe the effects of psychedelics, we can be certain that our current methods of language are still too primitive to explain what the actual experiences bring us. Like art and music, psychedelics can be used to explore the limitless beauty of our reality. They allow us to grow and fully experience this wild ride called life.
History Almost all cultures have used consciousness-altering substances in some way or another for as long as there has been history. They have been used to expand human consciousness ritually and spiritually for thousands of years, co-evolving with humanity. Ancient scriptures and religions across the world clearly document the use of psychedelics for ‘communication with the Gods’.
Cave paintings dating back as far as 10,000 years appear to depict shamans or psychedelic experiences. Psychedelics are thought to have a significant influence on early human development, and could have played an important role in the development of our communication. This and other similar hypotheses have been backed up by modern science, with some of our brain‘s most important neurotransmitters sharing significant commonalities with psychedelic molecules. Our brains seem to be primed to have psychedelic experiences. Like a key in a lock, our brain‘s receptors are molded to accept these compounds. Some of which, like DMT are created within our own body, which in a way makes connected to them by nature.
First steps of Research Our limited research into psychedelic states has shown that psychedelics disrupt the default mode network of the brain—the usual neural paths you use most of the time. This allows the brain to open up to an abundance of novel communication pathways that have existed there all along, but are inaccessible in a sober state. It allows communication across regions of the brain that are usually not connected or accessed in this way. Some use the analogy of slightly loosening the breaks on the tires of a bike. By default, the body holds the breaks in a tight grip so that our reality is limited, but optimised to allow individuals to be functional in their daily lives in otherwise over-stimulating states of being. When slightly released, we get a glimpse of what else is there. In the early days there were plenty of battles to be fought. Wolves, thieves, or enemies of your tribe. Today, we point the sword inwards and attack our own fears. Being a modern warrior doesn’t mean hurting others, it means having the guts to conquer your own demons.
Psychedelics and plant medicine can hold the power to show you where you need to do this work. The way psychedelics ‘show yourself to yourself’ can break unhelpful patterns of thinking and behaviour, and clear a path for healing. Whether it’s past traumas, self-limiting beliefs, or unhealthy patterns of behaviour, psychedelics can help you embark on a battle that can be most meaningful for you. A battle for spiritual healing and growth. Although this isn‘t necessarily the case for just everyone, psychedelic research is showing very promising results in this area of psychotherapy. And many curious at-home psychonauts who sought them out recreationally, end up receiving insights that could change their life.
Illegality and Stigma Research into psychedelics was illegal and surrounded by stigma until just a few decades ago, but nowadays the scientific consensus is that psychedelics carry tremendous potential to have a positive mental impact. Not only are many tryptamine psychedelics physiologically safe and non-addictive when used appropriately, but they are being studied as promising treatments for detrimental disorders such as major depression, trauma, and addiction. As the stigma against psychedelics has decreased over the decades, an increasing number of influential creators such as Steve Jobs and Francis Prick (DNA scientist) have opened up about the impact their psychedelic experiences have had on their lives.This trend is continuing and is reaching investors who see new money in psychedelics. The driving force behind new psychedelic science isn’t just this surge in popularity amongst creative minds, it is usually linked to the pharmaceutical industry in the pursuit of proving new medicine for capital benefits. And while medical science could potentially be a solid foundation for safe psychedelic integration into society, we have to be wary of business interests, patent races, and a purely ‘medical’ focus. We underline a notion that psychedelics are not just medicine, but tools for human enhancement and general wellbeing. Psychedelics for the ‘betterment of well people’ is not a new notion but deserves much more positive attention. The freedom of our minds is something we have to protect, together. Because few other experiences are as sacred and private as this deepening connection to the essence of you really are. Exploration into oneself with these tools, should not be limited certain groups. We haven‘t quite found a proper way to bring them out of the shadows and into the light in a positive, safe and respectful way. Largely because they transcend and human constructs and Western logic. But together we can strive to build a future where they are better understood and adopted by our society.
Psychedelics make us humble to the grand ‘not knowing’ of things. The universe is incomprehensibly long and humanity has only been there for a brief moment. We are slowly discovering our extensive history with these tools, opening new grand questions to the nature of our reality. Psychedelics were here long before humanity. And they will be here after we as a species cease to exist. Perhaps by studying these ancient technologies, remembering who we truly are, where we come from, and what is important in life; we can use our skills to create a paradise beyond our wildest imagination.