I called some conservatives/libertarians the other day to find out if they’d rattle the doors of perception and join a progressive (me) in saying together that we use psychedelics.
I couldn’t find any takers. Most claimed never to have done them. Or it wasn’t their priority to spend time on this side issue when there’s an election to lose.
So I resorted to Twitter, asking for a Colorado conservative to take a public stand with me that “psychedelic mushrooms should be legalized for therapeutic use and that [we] personally consume them.”
I got a couple responses.
Ari Armstong, an public intellectual and Complete Colorado columnist, responded with, “Psychedelic mushrooms should be legalized across the board, without restrictions (for consenting adults). (Sorry; don’t take them.)”
The Libertarian Party of Arapahoe County tweeted back, “Nice try, fed. But yes, legalize them!”
At the suggestion of a friend, I called KHOW radio host Ross Kaminsky, who told me, “While there is increasing evidence of the medical benefits of psychedelics, I don’t need that reason to support their legalization. I support anything that a consenting adult or adult wants to do that doesn’t harm others with only two caveats: one, there should be very harsh penalties for providing or dealing drugs to children and, two, if there is a bad outcome for you for a choice that you make, do not ask me to pay for it.”
That’s great, but I wanted a conservative to make it personal — to acknowledge that they consume these substances.
But it remains taboo to say you’ve eaten psychedelic mushrooms, especially — I think — if you’re a conservative.
This, despite factual peer-reviewed medical evidence for their beneficial use in therapy (depression, anxiety, addiction, PTSD, end-of-life care) and serious bets on Wall Street that psychedelics will make a lot of people really rich one day.
But to get psychedelic drugs to the next level of acceptance, people need to talk openly about using them in an honest, factual way.
Ezra Klein offered a great example of what this looks like in a New York Times op-ed last year titled, “Can Magic Mushrooms Heal Us?”
“I avoided psychedelics when I was younger, fearful of the loss of control, and tried them later, desperately, when there was more darkness in my mind than light,” wrote Klein. “It was not an easy time for me, and these were not easy experiences. They kicked down doors around my anxiety, my marriage, my work, my family, my resentments, my attachments, my self. Those rooms were often unpleasant to enter. There was ecstasy and beauty, yes, but also fear and, often, so often, intense nausea. Things I’d fought to ignore resurfaced. Disparate parts of my life and beliefs and personality connected, and I became more legible to myself. I am not cleansed of anxiety, but I am more aware that my outlook, at any given moment, is just a dance of brain chemistry and experience, and far from the only state possible. That a few micrograms of chemical was all it took to upend my confident grip on reality shook me in ways I’m grateful for. I hold my judgments and worldviews more lightly, and I am friendlier to mystery and strangeness.
“But as with more traditional therapy, to the extent that these experiences changed me, it is because I acted on the insights later, once sobriety had returned. A trip is of little value if you refuse to leave the hotel after you arrive. …
Or it can crack you. Psilocybin isn’t addictive, and there is no known lethal dose. … But these experiences can be psychologically searing, even scarring. There is evidence that terror-filled trips can cause lingering trauma or even trigger psychosis or suicide in rare cases. Looking back, I wish I had had the option of skilled support, both to get more out of the experiences and to protect me from harm. These are not trivial chemicals. Here there be dragons.”
Psychedelic mushrooms didn’t crack me when I first did them in high school, but I was guided by the ideas of many of the most inspiring psychedelic intellectuals in America, like Andrew Weil, Gordon Wassan, and many others, whom my parents had introduced me to at their Telluride Mushroom Festival. My dad proselytized for the legalization of drugs and we wrote mushroom articles and an urban mushrooms website together, among other joint mycological undertakings.
In a small but real way, psychedelics helped me feel grounded through young adulthood and beyond — not because they gave my life meaning or lead me to a religion, even paganism, as I hoped, but because they helped me accept myself (and things I don’t understand) and pay attention to what matters most to me — without judging others too much for what’s meaningful to them.
As much as the psychedelic experience gives me a sense of connectedness to people and nature, it also pushes forward a sort of inspirational loneliness — how you come and go into this world alone — but that’s okay.
At its best, the psychedelic experience brings forward the complex and ephemeral nature of life, the insanity of wild consumerism, the importance of creating a feeling of purpose for oneself. It makes me appreciate family and friends and community — as well as light, colors, temperature, and texture during the experience.
I never ate mushrooms with a guide, but I never consume them nonchalantly either. I find a “set and setting,” a physical space and mental space, that feels comfortable — and I’ve never taken them alone. I avoid doing them if I’m depressed.
Over the years, I came to see psychedelics as a way for me to primarily have a fun (usually) experience but also a meaningful and different one with no expectation of finding anything transcendent in terms of the meaning of life. They became a tool to shake things up a bit, to reflect in a concentrated way, to assess, to see if I like myself (more or less), if I’ve been neglectful or appreciative of my incredible fortune. Years might go by between my psychedelic experiences, and that’s okay.
Psychedelic substances affect people in different ways, from fear and sadness to euphoria and elation. They don’t work for everybody and should not be taken lightly or without someone who has experience with them. As such, they are a challenge from a public policy point of view, I think, and it will take time to figure it out.
So I agree with the often-expressed worries of advocates of psychedelics that progress toward accepting the use of these substances needs to be slow and steady, not rushed, because major setbacks will occur if inevitable bad experiences or risks are blown out of proportion, eclipsing the good stuff.
That’s why we need people of different backgrounds and beliefs to talk intelligently about their own experiences — and own them.
Which brings me back to conservatives and progressives in Colorado. This is something we can agree on.
Let’s come out of the psychedelic closet together.