Psychedelic Chaos

Author: Rita Kočárová.
This article was originally published on Psychedelic Press.

The Psychedelic Press is excited to be joining the global psychedelic community in Prague for Beyond Psychedelics 2018. Here, researcher from the National Institute of Mental Health (CZ) introduces the ideas underpinning the event: an exploration of beauty and diversity in psychedelic community.

You can feel it in the air: many people say that we are experiencing a Psychedelic Renaissance. But, I think that our current situation more closely resembles a psychedelic chaos: there are no universally-accepted standards, no rules, and thousands of different ways of approaching psychedelics. The Beyond Psychedelics team are aware of this diversity. Rather than judge, we have decided to embrace and honor it: Beyond Psychedelics 2018 will be about sharing our different perspectives: an environment in which we can explore, and learn from each other.

Some of you argue that we should  proclaim what is right and what is not; that we should only highlight “best practices”. Honestly, we would love to do that! …Except that it is impossible, with no rules or standards upon which we all can agree, let alone rely.

Instead, we invite you to liberate yourselves from the expectation of clear answers. Instead, come with lots of questions, be open to discussing controversial practices and to exploring the taboos around psychedelics, and join us this year, in magical Prague, at Beyond Psychedelics 2018!

The psychedelic community is divided in many different ways: we have researchers and clinicians administering psychedelics in the clinical trials. Mainstream society considers those attached to academic institutions to be the most competent at this. But beyond the clinical arena, there is a growing number of underground providers: traditional travelling curanderosfrom South America, a variety of neo-shaman, and even conventional therapists using psychedelics (often illegally) in their practices.

These non-clinical practitioners have all have been kept busy! Not everyone is willing to wait for clinical trials to finish, only to validate what many people have already learned first-hand: that psychedelics can be administered safely and beneficially. Even after the trials are carried out successfully, people who did not participate will still not be able to benefit from having psychedelics in our pharmacies; the vast majority of those who choose to use them ‒ battling the same conditions treated successfully using psychedelics in the trials ‒ will still be considered criminals.

And, what about the many people who are not looking for any kind of shaman, researcher, or therapist? Hundreds of thousands of people simply use psychedelics alone, or with their friends, at parties, or as a tool for deep innerwork, self-exploration, consciousness observation, or healing. We call these solo travellers psychonauts.

There is also the new fashion trend to consider: microdosing. Recent popularization of this technique has been truly revolutionary. Through the popularization of microdosing, psychedelics have found a way to reach a much larger amount of people, and many now happily take them without being worried about seeing their demons or going through difficult processes. You can start a day with a bit of LSD and then go to work as usual, (afterwards, perhaps, realizing that there is more fun to be had…or less).

In sum, there is a seemingly never-ending list of diverse reasons that people are using psychedelics today: taking psychoactive substances for religious or spiritual practices, or for enhancing sexual activity. Philosophers are tripping out for educational purposes, psychonauts for exploration, and therapists for supervision.

The variety extends still further when you consider the reasons underpinning the way individuals follow these usage trends: millions of people from around the world have tried psychedelics and everyone will tell you something different: about their motivation, about the effects, about the setting, about the necessary requirements. Common advice for example includes adages like, “Never take psychedelics alone.” But, I know many people who have taken psychedelics alone, and, rather than coming to harm, have had incredibly profound, personally-transformative experiences… Contradictions ‒ between and within ‒ guidelines and practices abound.

Ultimately, everyone has their own reasons to explain why they use psychedelics in their diversely specific ways. Why use high doses, why microdose? Why take repetitive doses, or why try a substance only once? Why undergo extensive preparation beforehand, such as special diets; why dive straight into the unknown? Why use these substances alone? Why seek out the company of shamans, researchers, or friends?

We might agree, or not, with some, all, or none of these ways of using psychedelics. Regardless, this melting-pot of ever-diversifying practices is the situation we find ourselves in today. Psychedelics are used in many different ways, and from the multitude of available reports, it looks like reasons can be found to apply them to any given area of our lives. And so we do. Done.

“There’s beauty diversity, but there are risks, too.”

What are the consequences of this increasingly diverse use of psychedelics? (Leaving aside those rules imposed by drug prohibition), there are no rules governing the use of psychedelics, nor a consensus on how to position them within our society. There are many individual and local efforts being made to set standards, guidelines, and criteria, which individuals or organizations might agree with, or not…

If they disagree, they often do so loudly, promoting their own methodology ahead of that of others. Researchers are arguing against unofficial providers, shamans are campaigning against each other, and users are criticizing the providers of psychedelics after undergoing challenging experiences. This is a situation which begins to warrant the description, “psychedelic chaos.”

And, of course, as these substances are illegal almost everywhere, only clinical research has a more or less clear means of use – careful screening with two therapists present during the session. This research represents great progress, but it is a pity that it accounts for just a drop in the ocean, in the much vaster context of the use of psychedelics. Once again, we see disagreement: many people disagree with making psychedelics available only to a select group of people: those that pass through eligibility screenings or have the financial resources to receive treatment.

Now, who is right? What criteria are required in order to be deemed competent enough to administer psychedelics? Are a medical degree and experience of conventional clinical practice sufficient? This is what we have actually agreed on in western academic and mainstream society. But should we require that the providers have gone through a requisite number of psychedelic states themselves in order to become qualified to navigate others through it? Should they have to be able to communicate with and/or believe in the spirits of the plants? (Or substances – is there a spirit of LSD?)  Isn’t it time to set up some reliable common criteria? Which ways of use are right? I don´t know. Do you? I really hope we can come to a clear consensus on this, as problems continue to arise with too many varying approaches.

I have seen many contexts under which psychedelics were used,  and have heard hundreds stories of psychedelic experiences. I have witnessed many different perspectives, ranging from the anxiously careful to the extremely relaxed approach that psychedelics are good and safe for almost everyone, in any situation. I have my own beliefs, but as I cannot be sure, I don’t feel competent in judging anyone else.

Through exploring this confusion itself, I have come to notice the beauty in psychedelic diversity: there is much greater potential in these tools than the mainstream media shows. There are so many different practices and techniques that can be beneficial, despite the fact that we don’t understand their mechanisms properly, yet. This diversity has produced fear in many people, including the entire psychedelic community. It could also be fear of the unknown:

Imagine studying many years to become a mental health expert, being taught various techniques on treating the body and psyche of the people. Out of the blue, along comes a traditional healer who works in very different way, and is perhaps more effective. You always know the proper dose of pills to give, and he says instead, “take as much as you can.“ Of course, you will be confused! Indeed, you will probably think that you are right; because who is the authority on health in western society? Medical doctors, not “healers”, right?

So, we have to ask: who can judge?

I have also learned that in order to decide who is right, I would need to know much more than what is readily available. So I decided to accept this diversity, and to observe, and explore it – without judging. Learning more about what each of these different practices can offer me, you, my friends, my family, our society, and this planet – and what they can take from us. I invite you along for this sightseeing journey. It has lead to my deep respect for the entire spectrum of users and providers. From those considered crazy for spreading this experience to thousands of people, to those working hard in tiring clinical trials.

We already know that prohibition has never been able to get rid of psychedelics, or rather, the need to explore and change our consciousness.

We may as well accept this need as a part of our nature, and look for ways to integrate and satisfy it successfully. I believe that we cannot be successful in doing so until we accept the wide variety of use for what it is: a beautifully and necessarily diverse field, enabling everyone to talk about their experience openly and without judgement, regardless of whether  you are a university professor or college student, a psychonaut, a health professional, or a patient.

I have also realized that, in the current chaos, it is not possible yet to decide on who has authority, who is right. That there is something valuable in any approach, and in any opinion. The only thing we can do is to learn from each other, respect one another’s points of view, and try to find the common ground, an agreement, a consensus. So, there is a lot of work to be done.

We believe Beyond Psychedelics 2018 will move things forwards. We hope you will join us in this journey.

Beyond Psychedelics will take place in the Czech Republic, Prague on 21-24 June, 2018. Check out the speakers, start thinking up creative questions, and head here for tickets: http://beyondpsychedelics.cz/

IMAGES BY: Filip Aura