Psychedelics and Transpersonal Experiences

Discussion post I submitted for my Atlantic University TP5020 Course – November 27, 2019

This week’s reading assignments on the use of psychoactive substances and their relationship to transpersonal experiences fall into three categories: 1) Recreational drug use, seen most prolifically in the late 1960s; 2) their use in sacred and religious ceremonies, which has been occurring for thousands of years; and 3) their use in a controlled and scientific way to bring about transpersonal changes as well as to treat medical conditions such depression and alcoholism.

I don’t want to spend the entirety of this week’s post delving into the recreational use of drugs as it’s obviously a controversial topic.  I am old enough to remember the tail end of the 1960s, although not of age to “imbibe.”  I had older brothers and was fairly intuitive so I absorbed more than the adults around me ever knew.  I certainly don’t share the romanticized view of psychedelics for recreational purposes or this period in general that Philip Wolfson espouses, although the music was second-to-none. Nor do I see psychedelics as the great liberator of the “repressive” “McCarthyism” period of the 1940s and 1950s (2014, p. 195).  I have tremendous respect for the “Greatest Generation” and what they accomplished following WWII, so I disagree with Wolfson here.

The religious and spiritual use of mind-altering substances is well documented as well as are their transpersonal benefits.  Stanley Krippner and Joseph Sulla’s article on “ayahuasca sessions” note the “transformative power of an ayahuasca experience” by recounting several examples of individuals who participated in this ancient practice. One such person is Dennis McKenna, who “felt he had finally experienced the ‘true profundity’ and the ultimate ‘force’ of ayahuasca (2000, p. 73).  Wolfson notes that the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized “deliberate uses of mind-altering substances [like ayahuasca] for the purpose of transformation within bounded social and religious frameworks” similar to the Native American’s use of peyote in their ceremonies (2014, p. 194).

The most intriguing use of psychedelics is in the area of research, a field that Stan Grof pioneered.  As Roberts and Winkelman point out, “psychedelic experiences do encompass a broad range of transpersonal experiences, perhaps all.” They go on to say that Grof “listed over two dozen transpersonal experiences such as archetypes, ancestral memories, and racial memories” (2015, p. 460). Fadiman and Kornfeld offer several intriguing areas of observation regarding psychedelic research, which include the fact that “Psychedelic substances, used correctly are valuable tools to study facets of consciousness inducing self-healing, visionary experience, spiritual transformations, religious conversations, and altered states of consciousness” (2015, p. 361).

The operative word for me is the “correct” use of psychedelic substances.  As Fadiman and Kornfeld point out, “Psychedelic researchers first need to take into account the strength and the nature of internal and external variables that influence the effects.  The most important of these are the emotional and intellectual expectations (‘set’), the physical and psychological atmosphere surrounding the ingestion (‘setting’), and the dose taken” (2013, p 355).  Obviously when used improperly, such as the wrong dose or wrong environment, “bad trips” can occur, which are potentially devastating for the individual.  Psychedelics are extraordinarily powerful, with great potential in transpersonal psychology as well as with other medial applications, but it’s important they are approached with the proper care and precaution.

References

Fadiman, J. & Kornfeld, A. (2015), “Psychedelic-induced experiences,” The Wiley Blackwell handbook of transpersonal psychology, pp. 352-366, John Wiley & Sons Ltd: West Sussex, UK.

Krippner, S. & Sulla, J. (2000), “Identifying spiritual content in reports from ayahuasca sessions,” The International Journal of Transpersonal Studies, 19, p. 59-76.

Roberts, T. & Winkelman, M. (2015), “Psychedelic induced transpersonal experiences, therapies, and their implications for transpersonal psychology,” The Wiley Blackwell handbook of transpersonal psychology, pp. 459-479, John Wiley & Sons Ltd: West Sussex, UK.

Wolfson, P. (2014), “The transformative power of ketamine: psychedelic states and a personal history of transformation,” International Journal of Transpersonal Studies, 33(2), pp. 193-202.