What are Psychedelics?
Let’s start off with a basic definition of our subject matter: what are psychedelics?
Psychedelics are a group of substances that can produce profound changes in consciousness, including alterations in perception, mood, thoughts and emotions. They include plant-based psychedelics such as mushrooms; lab-synthesized psychedelics such as LSD, and other compounds such as DMT.
Psychedelics have been heavily studied over the years for their neuroplastic effects on the brain. They break down the modularity of perception so that parts of the brain that would normally be isolated from each other can communicate. This means that usual, everyday thought patterns can be replaced by more creative and open-ended thinking.
Andy’s Decision to Explore Psychedelics
Most people with a pre-existing interest in psychedelics – or any aspect of natural wellness, for that matter – have heard of Michael Pollan. The American author and journalist is known for writing several best-selling books on the topics of farming, gardening, and the socioeconomic impacts of food. He really caught public attention with the release of ‘How to Change Your Mind’ about five years ago.
In the book, Pollan covers the history of psychedelics and their potential therapeutic effect on a range of mental health issues. He documents promising experiments with LSD and psilocybin to argue their positive effects for those struggling with various addictions, depression, and social anxiety.
Andy says he first read Michael Pollan’s book shortly after it came out in 2018. At the time, he hadn’t explored much of the topic but the title alone was enough to pique his interest. Sitting in a Whole Foods parking lot in Monterey, he soon found himself face-to-face with the very people who call this lucid substance life-changing and took the opportunity to try it first-hand. Psychedelic ceremonies quickly changed his perception of what it meant to get high and it was at this point that he realized the psychological and spiritual power of these substances.
Michael Pollan’s book was and remains fascinating for its in-depth account of the author’s own exploration of psychedelics. But at the same time, Andy felt that it was limited in scope. Pollan only reviewed three substances, while there was a greater 10 to explore. His writing also took an arguably lucid approach that felt hard to relate to. What does the entire panoply of psychedelic possibilities look like, beyond the clinical settings covered in this book?
Andy pitched that very question to publishers and was soon on a mission to create an unprecedented encyclopedia of psychedelics, their effects, and the insights they offer into the human experience. This new book would paint a broad picture, from a subjective and objective point of view, and across 10 different settings.
Setting This Project Apart From Existing Research
Of course, contributing to a conversation started by someone as revered as Michael Pollan wouldn’t be easy. Andy greatly respected the author’s take on psychedelics and credits it with his interest in the area of study altogether. However, there were definitely some gaps in need of filling. Andy saw an opportunity to break the clinical bounds and look at the historical, philosophical, scientific, and cultural elements of psychedelics. He wanted to explore not just the science behind these powerful substances but also how they fit into our collective experience as human beings.
There were also expectations to subtract from the equation; while Michael’s research had made big waves, years on it became associated with what many in science call the ‘Michael Pollan effect’. This effect, coined by anthropologist Tehseen Noorani, is the tendency for the public to perceive any scientific research on psychedelics as ‘just another take’ on what Michael Pollan had already written.
With this in mind, Andy set off on a journey to gain a greater understanding of how different cultures view psychedelics and their potential uses. He visited various sites around the world where he encountered shamans, healers, and other practitioners who use these substances for healing purposes. Breaking free from Western mental health norms, Andy sought to see the world through a new perspective and to understand the potential of psychedelics beyond the traditional medical model. He mingled with individuals who were on their own personal journeys of discovery in what would turn out to be 40 different ceremonies over the course of 60 days.
While scientific research was the drive behind the project, Andy admits he couldn’t help but feel transformed during his journey. He found himself looking inward at his own upbringing, identity, and experiences to uncover things he never knew.
Real Benefits Require Work
Maladaptive habits like procrastination and overthinking are among the prime reasons why people begin exploring psychedelics. There’s something to be said about the power of inner thoughts, which Andy explains are part of a greater default mode network in the human brain. This internal circuitry is responsible for a lot of the internal dialogue and automatic thoughts we experience on a daily basis. It’s also been linked to habit formation, so it’s no wonder that many people struggle with their inner monologue, which tends to be critical and self-defeating.
Psychedelic use can provide an opportunity for us to step outside of this internal dialogue and gain a different perspective on our thoughts, habits, and behavior. It can also provide insight into how the default mode network works in our own minds, allowing us to better understand our inner thoughts and the patterns behind them.
But like all forms of therapy, Andy emphasizes that it requires work. It’s not like taking a pill and suddenly you know what to do. You have to learn how to use the lessons psychedelics give you, and that takes time. It’s all about being open to the idea of exploration as well as learning about yourself in the process.
Andy Mitchell’s fresh perspective on psychedelics is a welcome addition to the conversation about mental health and well-being. He provides a unique take on how psychedelics can be used to explore our inner selves and gain insight into the thoughts and patterns that shape our lives.
By using this approach, we are better equipped to challenge unhealthy thought processes within ourselves, whether they apply to creative endeavors or any other facet of life. I highly recommend reading ‘Ten Trips: The New Reality of Psychedelics’ as soon as it’s available at your local bookstore.