In this episode, Joe interviews Dana Lerman, MD: a decade-long infectious disease consultant who has since been trained in psychedelic-assisted therapy, ecotherapy, and Internal Family Systems, and is the Co-Founder of Skylight Psychedelics, where she prescribes IM ketamine and trains therapists who work with it.
Lerman tells her story: how working with kids with cancer made her want to learn medicine, what it was like working as an infectious disease expert during COVID, and how fascinating it has been to start with modern medicine and then fully embrace the traditional frameworks of ayahuasca ceremonies. She has realized that part of her role is to bring that intention, ceremony, and inner healing intelligence to modern medicine – that that will greatly benefit patients as well as clinicians who naturally want to be healers but are burnt out by the bureaucracy and distractions of the faulty container they find themselves in. Skylight Psychedelics is working on opening a clinical research division, researching psychedelics for Long COVID, and bringing in-person psychedelic peer support services to emergency rooms.
She also discusses intergenerational trauma and how psychedelics have affected her parenting; the impossibility of informed consent in psychedelics and why there should be disclaimers as well as instructions; accessibility, the need for insurance to cover psychedelic-assisted therapy, and why the price of these expensive treatments actually makes sense; why we should be sharing stories of mistakes and things going wrong during ceremonies; and why one of the biggest things we can do to further the cause is to educate our children and parents about psychedelics.
“What’s come to me recently in ayahuasca ceremony is that part of my role in this space is really to bring intention and to bring ceremony and the inner healing intelligence and that concept to the modern medicine space. I mean, there’s so many places for improvement in modern medicine, like even: We have a few minutes for a timeout so you can check to make sure that’s the right patient [and] it’s the right limb you’re going to amputate, but we don’t have a moment to talk about who this person is and the intention of this surgery and what we want for this person. We just have this disconnect, and this disconnect; obviously, it’s not just in medicine. It’s in everywhere. It’s our food. It’s our community. All systems.”
“I have three small children. A lot of why I went to ayahuasca was because I knew [beside wanting] to heal myself of all the stuff that I’ve been carrying around, I wanted to shift my parenting and to be a better parent, and I felt that if I carried my anxiety, my control, all the stuff: It just keeps getting passed down because the kids are just learning from us. But if you can address that, if you can address where does that come from, what is the work that has to be done around it, and do that work, your kids see it. My daughter: When I came home from ayahuasca (she was probably seven); she looked to me and she said, ‘Why didn’t you go there sooner?’”
“Anytime people are using these medicines, I think: There’s a huge disclaimer that should be coming with these medicines, like: ‘Your life will be changed forever. You will never look at anything the same way again, and there’s a possibility that you enter into a space where you are experiencing the vastness of the universe, and that may be very overwhelming for you when the journey is over. You need someone to talk about it with.’ The whole concept of integration is so important.”
This sequel to their fascinating discussion about shadow work earlier this year focuses on dreams, as Amara, while dreaming that she was having an acid trip and coming to the realization that dreams and LSD may be sending her to the same place, is researching the similarities between the odd worlds of dreams and psychedelic experiences: Is it the same place? Do the dreams we have after psychedelic experiences continue those visions and ‘Aha!’ moments? Can they answer questions for us (the concept of “sleep on it”)? Does dream analysis result in a greater feeling of integration? Can we use the dreams we have before experiences to help guide the experience itself?
The conversation goes a lot of places: the many aspects of Jungian psychology; the fluidity of Indigenous perspectives around visible and invisible worlds; how Jung wrote “The Red Book”; the concept of eros and reclaiming our relationship with aliveness; how nature is in constant equilibrium (as are we); how to build a relationship with your dreams; how to work with symbols in dreams; and much more. Ultimately, this episode is about the clash between the conscious and unconscious, the willed and the incidental, and waking life and other realities, and dream analysis and integration work is really tracking vitality in the human psyche: what is alive in us and how does it want to live out in our beings? What makes us come alive? Can our dreams tell us?
“I was inside my dream, analyzing my dream, and having the phenomenological experience of being on LSD, and it was like, ‘Holy shit, is this the same place?’” -Mackenzie
“When you sit with a dream image that maybe scares you or that you avoid: When you sit with it long enough for its purpose to be revealed, it’s like, ‘Man, cool, thank you for sending me that image.’ And you can start to trust that there’s something larger inside of you that has your back. And that level of trust, that level of existential secure attachment (is what I’ve been calling it lately) is un-fuck-with-able. Nobody can take that from you. Once you have that, you’re good. All the chaos can happen around you, but you’ve got something inside of you that nobody can touch.” -Mackenzie
“These are all experiences with the numinous. The numinous wears all the shapes. It’s only our human hubris that searches for it in particular shapes. If we kind of quiet that hubris a little bit and let the self, let the numinous talk in its own language for a second, we can all be humbled to see how vast its language is and how it can find us even in the most ridiculous images.” -Ido
“When we have these experiences, when we’re given this content from our unconscious, it’s an invitation to join the family, to join the life that is living through all things. And that to me, is just really, really hopeful, and I think it’s why I’m so inspired and passionate about psychedelics, is the possibility of them to alleviate that nihilistic thought pattern that says ‘I’m alone in this world.’ When we really, really feel into what’s happening for us, it’s collective. We’re in a collective experience, constantly, all the time. And that’s really beautiful and healing.” -Mackenzie
In this special episode, Melanie Pincus, Ph.D. and Manesh Girn, Ph.D., who joined David in episode 403 to discuss the launch of their new course, essentially interview each other.
As the 2nd edition of their popular course, Psychedelic Neuroscience Demystified, begins on November 1, we wanted to give them a chance to highlight some of the aspects of neuroscience students can expect to learn in the course, and what so many people who are interested in psychedelics don’t fully understand: What does neuroplasticity actually entail? Can one predict if a patient is more apt to have an experience with ego dissolution? How does the amygdala relate to mood disorders? When are critical periods of greater plasticity and socialization at their most beneficial? How does neuroplasticity relate to chronic stress?
They also discuss lessons they’ve received from their own journeys; why they created the course; serotonin; psychological flexibility; body-based versions of self vs. memory-based versions; psychedelics and re-encoding memories (and the potential for false memories); how psychedelic therapy is different from standard drug treatments; psychedelics and the default mode network (is the story oversimplified?), and much more.
For more information on their course, and to sign up, click here!
“A major insight from my psychedelic journeys is just how dense and heavy thoughts and mental content can be. And we often feel the need to overanalyze and think about things and get lost in our concepts and internal dialogue as opposed to experiencing things in the moment, as they are, in a more deeper kind of intimate way – having a greater intimate relationship with our senses, with the immediacy of what’s happening. And my psychedelic experiences, whether it’s with psilocybin or 5-MeO-DMT or what have you, have allowed me to glimpse into states where that stuff is just totally removed, and I’m just immersed in the rawness of experience and just how beautifully vibrant and alive and spontaneously intelligent that is, and how superfluous a lot of our thinking really is, and it just weighs us down. I think my journeys have just allowed me to live with greater ease and hold on to my identity and my narratives much more lightly. So I see them, I acknowledge them, but I’m not totally lost in them. I don’t identify strongly with them.” -Manesh
“Perhaps what’s happening is that MDMA induces a super positive mood where you feel really socially connected, really empathogenic with your therapist or whoever’s around you, you feel so safe and supported. And so if challenging traumatic memories come up, there’s this mismatch between the emotional trace of the traumatic memory and the unique state you’re in with the MDMA on board. And so this mismatch drives the memory reconsolidation process so that your traumatic memory is amended with less fear to be more in line with your current way you’re feeling of being so safe and supported.” -Melanie
She talks about graduating college and going straight to Esalen, where she had little concern over therapy or integration, and how, after 20 years of ayahuasca experiences, she learned to see psychedelic-assisted therapy and ceremonial, transformational experiences as very different things. She discusses her ayahuasca journeys; a surprising MDMA experience; what having an ongoing relationship with the spirit of ayahuasca means; Ann Shulgin’s concerns over going through death’s door while in a journey; what true integration is; how psychedelics can help prepare for death, and more.
And she talks about her new book, Swimming in the Sacred, which collects the stories, unique perspectives, and wisdom of 15 female elders who have been working in the underground for at least 15 years each, and how their experience has led to a somatic-based intuition and ‘know it in their bones’ feeling that so many new practitioners and facilitators need – and can only come with time.
“I kind of want to say to the newly-hatched psychedelic therapists: ‘Well, get this experience,’ but it’s very hard. And they’re not going to wait six years before practicing, so there’s such a need for them, and I can’t, in every podcast, (I mean, you’ll laugh at this), I can’t say, ‘Go do a lot of drugs,’ right? I’m trying to be more elegant about this, but that’s part of the elder women’s experience, is they really know the territory.”
“I know you’ve done a real apprenticeship, and I really respect that. And, yes, it’s very hard to find them, but that is the way people learn. So, what’s the best way to become a psychedelic therapist? It’s to be a patient with someone who’s a very experienced psychedelic therapist.”
“My priority was to work on myself and to grow and evolve. And so I always think of integration as part of a whole life: it’s not something that happens in a couple of sessions. But after these experiences, then what do we do with our lives and how do we live a more integrated life? And how do our lives unfold?”
She shares childhood memories of growing up on her Grandparents’ farm, where she developed a deep appreciation for nature, staring at the stars, and the beauty in stillness, and how coming back to that stillness has been key in her life and psychedelic journeys. The conversation then shifts to all that she’s learned through her work with children on the autism spectrum: the problems of putting people into boxes; how autism affects everyone; the different ways people learn; the connection between autism and the gut microbiome; and how she has learned more from some of these children than any book could teach her – culminating in a story of discovering that a very challenged child people were ready to give up on could actually read and comprehend everything he was hearing.
She discusses her favorite adaptogens; the art of stacking adaptogens and different modalities; her multi-day coaching sessions; Internal Family Systems; quantum biofeedback; the use of supplements in microdosing; and Brilliant Blends, which sells blends of supplements designed to provide benefits as close to what psilocybin can provide (but legally) – inspired by the unique needs of autistic individuals. PT listeners can receive 10% off all purchases with code: PT10.
“If we look at Western medicine, we are masters at saving lives. We’re not so great at quality of life. And looking more toward Eastern medicine, European medicine: where body, mind and soul [is] more brought into play – healing, working on the mind, the emotional, the mind and the body for a complete healing… So that was really why I chose the path of natural integrative medicine because I did see that everything has a place. Everybody brings a talent to the table. …We, many times, need a village for healing.”
“I’ve had some wonderful mentors along the way, but being on the ground, so to speak – not just in a laboratory, formulating things – being hands-on with those children on a day-to-day basis: that was the greatest teacher of: how is this herb working? How is this adaptogen working? So when I went to formulate Brilliant Blends, I just knew it had to honor them because I was using that knowledge base. I use it on a daily basis with everyone. …Autistic children have taught us what we know from autism, and what we know from autism applies to everyone.”
“That’s the end game. That’s the bottom line in all of this work that we’re doing. That’s where the transformation and freedom is: to realize that this medicine is in all of us. Maybe we’re just using psychedelics to open that door to reveal it and show us the path how to anchor it, but this medicine is in all of us and always was. So if we can use these different pathways, these different approaches to lead us back home, then bravo.”
In this episode, Kyle interviews Lisa Wessing: Clinical Psychologist and facilitator specializing in harm reduction at Kiyumí retreats in The Netherlands.
Wessing shares her personal journey and the shift from being uninspired with studying psychology to being a part of space-holding in Mexico and finding her true path. She dives into the world of Kiyumí retreats, discussing their holistic healing approach using psilocybin, somatic movement, dance expression, and other methods supporting their four pillars of embodiment, nature, mindfulness, and art. She discusses their more long-term program with Dr. Gabor Maté integrating his Compassionate Inquiry framework; their Equity Program, which offers partial or full funding for people who may not have the financial resources or who come from marginalized communities (e.g. BIPOC & Queer); and the importance of integration as a continuous process and checking in with people much later to build their “Kiyumíty.”
Much of this discussion covers the challenges of somatic psychology and facilitation in group containers: how most people are somatically illiterate and the challenging journey of becoming more somatic; what to do about someone laughing or singing in a group context; what moving into one’s body really means; and different ways of using art to integrate an experience.
As part of our Vital program, we are running a psilocybin retreat with Kiyumí from September 6-11, and we have some available spots left! If you like what you hear, you’ll be in The Netherlands in September, and want to have an amazing experience with us, click here for more info!
“Something really important is expression: self-expression and expression in community. So seeing and being seen is something also that we value. And that seeing and being seen can create awkwardness and strangeness, and it’s something that we really like to also go into, because once we break through that awkwardness, there’s so much potential of creativity amongst people.” “It’s the fostering of allowing discomfort that is just generally important in this kind of work and in self-work itself. …We live in context in which it’s all about escaping the discomfort. We want to have a really comfortable home and a great job, and our vacation has to be as comfortable as possible. And also in medicine, it’s better to take just a pill that will do the job for me. Psychedelic work is often really uncomfortable, and so the group process reflects that discomfort. So I guess one of the main missions and one of the main challenges is to present that: like, yes, you will be uncomfortable. And let’s work with that.”
In this episode, Joe interviews one of the world’s leading experts on human performance: New York Times bestselling author and Executive Director of the Flow Research Collective, Steven Kotler.
Kotler’s work explores the neurobiology of peak human performance, flow states, and aging, and the concept of getting our biology to work for us rather than against us in our later years, by using the parts of our brains that expand in our 50s, combined with neuroplasticity, learning by play, and the biggest factor: working toward a very difficult – but not impossible – task. His 30-year exploration of the neurobiology behind people accomplishing ‘impossible’ feats led him to test his theories by teaching himself to park ski at 53 with resounding success, then using his protocol with people up to 70 years old the next season. The story is told in his newest book about challenging tired concepts of aging, Gnar Country.
He discusses the power of flow states and how much flow actually amplifies productivity, motivation, wisdom, empathy, and more; why dynamic motion is a key activity for greater longevity and why skiing and similar action sports are some of the best examples; why dynamic activity in novel environments is even better; why changing one’s mindset may be the biggest factor toward change; why corporations are looking at flow training and where these concepts could go in the future; and of course, how this all relates to psychedelics.
“If you study flow science, it turns out that flow is really great at helping us go from zero up to Superman. It’s also really great at helping us go from seriously subpar, ‘I’m completely broken and sick’ back to normal. And it turns out this combination is phenomenal in the second half of our lives. And flow sits at the heart of peak performance aging.”
“The only way I can go [from] A to B with this is to take everything I know about flow science and peak performance and see if I can use it to accomplish this so-called impossible task. So that’s what the book is. And yes, I was obviously very successful. I went 0 to 60, as I said, in a single season. It was the fastest I’ve ever actually learned anything.”
“The place you’ve got to begin is mindset. The mind-body connection gets tighter and tighter and tighter over time, and it plays a significant role in aging and peak performance aging. Mindset is the greatest example. …A positive mindset towards aging – ‘I am thrilled with the second half of my life; my best days are ahead of me’ – translates to an additional eight years of healthy longevity. It’s wild. …You could be morbidly obese and have a shitty mindset towards aging. Change your mindset, you’ll live longer. Don’t lose weight. Change your mindset. It’s more important. In fact, changing your mindset is more important than quitting smoking for healthy longevity.”
When you realize that you’re not who you thought you were, the spiritual leader Ram Dass used to say, the path to enlightenment begins. This is also the beginning of the journey for LGBTQIA+ people.
In either case, self-realization can be prompted by psychedelics. But that transition is a scary one: whether it’s your ego or the gender and sexual orientation you were assigned at birth, it requires the death of the person you’ve known. Ultimately, you break through into a place of beauty, truth, and love. But there’s usually a period of kicking and screaming first, trying to hold on as the known slips through your fingers.
For queer and gender-diverse people, it often isn’t safe to express or connect with who we are, so we learn to suppress this knowledge even from ourselves. Denying one’s authenticity causes trauma that can manifest as depression, anxiety, and PTSD. But LGBTQIA+ researchers, therapists, users, and underground practitioners are finding that psychedelic therapy has immense potential to help their communities heal from internalized queer- and transphobia.
Lxo, a London-based artist and research curator experimented with various medicines in art school when their queer, trans*, and non-binary identities began to surface, deposited by a repressive, religious upbringing and persisting through more than five years of talk therapy.
“Then I did one [dose] of s-ketamine, and something burst forward from the past, like a memory bubble” they say. “I was able to forgive and heal… the version of me that was really crying out for help.”
There Is No “Post-Trauma”
For queer and gender-diverse people, there is no “post-trauma,” says Dr. Jae Sevelius, a clinical psychologist and Professor of Medical Psychology in the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center. Rather, it’s ongoing, and “It’s not just about experiencing violence, it’s about experiencing violence because of who you are.”
Most mainstream therapies, however, treat trauma as an isolated incident. “[In the West,] we don’t have great approaches to offer people,” Sevelius says. “We have medicines that can treat the symptoms… but talk therapies for trauma… can be really challenging, [with] very high dropout and [low] success rates.”
What’s more, these frameworks aren’t built to support the queer experience. On the contrary, they’re often the very sources of the trauma they aim to treat. Homosexuality was still classified as a mental illness in the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) until 1973; being transgender, until 2012. These links persist today, with gender-diverse people being required to undergo psychiatric evaluation before receiving supportive healthcare—assuming this is even an option.
I’ve experienced this firsthand: celebrating diagnoses that pathologize your identity because it means you can actually get the care you need, reinforcing cognitive dissonance and negative self-beliefs. It breeds mistrust among queer and especially gender-diverse people, especially those with intersecting underrepresented identities, such as BIPOC and sex workers, who face additional systemic barriers and are most impacted by the drug war.
Patients often have to educate their therapists and doctors in culturally relevant care, emotional labor that can be life-threatening. Even worse, queer and gender-diverse communities have been subjected to so-called conversion therapy, inhumane “treatments” that try to turn people cisgendered and straight, still legal in many places. Methods of administration have included electroconvulsive therapy — and psychedelics.
The fact that substances known as truth agents could be used as tools of oppression speaks to the influence of set and setting – and, perhaps even more, of institutions like medicine, psychotherapy, and the university system, where outcomes must align with conclusions that satisfy funding sources.
Today, the barriers to both gender-affirming treatment and psychedelic healing remain immense. Part of the problem is that LGBTQIA+ people are underrepresented on both sides of psychedelic therapy and research, as well as the sciences more broadly, and largely feel unwelcome in all these arenas.
“We need to recognize that there are specific needs between different people within the community, and those needs arise from systemic failures,” says Alfredo Carpineti, a queer astrophysicist and founder of UK charity Pride in STEM.
Research both reflects and creates the world, as psychologist and Yale researcher Terence Ching and others have observed. Psychedelic clinical trials and research studies don’t even gather data on sexual orientation and gender identity, so there is no way to know how psychedelic therapy impacts LGBTQIA+ communities, yet the message this sends to them is clear.
Existing studies and trials are not designed to capture or accommodate queer experiences, typically using cis-het, male-female therapist dyads that are meant to mimic hetero-normative parenting frameworks. Additionally, therapists are not trained to handle complex gender and sexuality issues that may come up during sessions.
Misgendering or failing to affirm someone’s identity can be particularly wounding, Sevelius warns. Those designing studies need to ask who is training and recruiting the therapists, and where they’re recruiting participants. A study on MDMA therapy for gender-diverse populations that they contributed to found current protocols lacking, calling for explicitly gender-affirming treatment and safer, more inclusive settings.
“I get requests all the time from trans and gender-diverse people asking me how they can be included in clinical trials. And I have to say, I don’t feel comfortable referring people,” Sevelius says. “Psychedelics create a very vulnerable psychological state. When you don’t know whether the therapists are really competent to be working with our communities, it’s very likely someone will get re-traumatized.”
Psychedelic research also needs to more rigorously capture demographic data about sexual and gender identity, but most organizations don’t have the resources, Ching says. Still, it’s crucial to recruit and train more LGBTQIA+ researchers and therapists to support straight ones in building queer-inclusive clinical spaces.
“There are many ways to improve access,” Ching says. “Rethink your eligibility criteria [and] do more than put up fliers. Go to queer organizations, talk to people, … do a town hall. Tell them what PTSD is and actually get savvy with the fact that sexism, racism, homophobia, and transphobia can lead to it.”
You’re Not Who You Thought You Were
Saoirse* spent five years in the military police, presenting masculine as a means of survival. Struggling with “decades of suppression and depression as well as PTSD from growing up in cis-het society and from the military,” she had already done a decade’s worth of talk therapy through the VA, cognitive processing therapy (CPT; a cognitive behavioral therapy for PTSD), and couples counseling. Then she participated in an ayahuasca ceremony.
“Having a safe space to explore my beingness… within a [sacred container and] Peruvian Amazonian lineage… was the key for me in discovering my true essence,” she says. “The masculine persona… dropped away. The other women gathered around me in a group hug, and I felt my true self seen, held, and celebrated for the first time.”
During his own MDMA therapy session, Ching was visited by otherworldly animal entities that helped him reconcile his queer and Asian-American identities, which he describes as “a profound experience of unshackling myself from the confines of internalized homophobia.”
Dee Adams, a research program manager at Johns Hopkins University who studies the impact of psychedelic therapy on gender-diverse people, says, “Psychedelics unlock[ed] those pieces of me that I… didn’t have the courage in mundane reality to approach or be aware of. I don’t know of any [other] medicines that can… be directly attributed to that initial ‘aha’ moment.”
Psilocybin and LSD have huge potential in triggering these insights, Sevelius says, as they’re known to break stuck patterns. MDMA is effective for identity-based trauma because it increases self-compassion and empathy, they add, and can improve gender resiliency when combined with affirming care. Along with a New York-based clinical partner, they’re also developing the first ketamine-assisted group therapy study created by and for trans and gender-diverse people.
Yet the relief goes beyond clinical symptoms. In her ayahuasca journeys, Saoirse connected with not only her own femininity but the feminine archetype, transmitted through the spirit of her mother, who was dying of a brain tumor.
“Spirit gifted me with an experience of the female pain body… and all the feminine has held for the masculine throughout the ages,” she says, including “the damage the masculine has done to itself… in committing violence. I was shown the breadth of our journey as souls through lifetimes and the beautiful and terrible dance of the human story.”
She also experienced reconciling with her mother’s spirit from her painful first coming-out, something antidepressants and talk therapy could never provide. “Healing does not occur in the mind,” Saoirse says. “Especially [when] healing core wounds with identity and gender identity, [it] takes place in the heart, … in belonging, and sacred witnessing of our stories, held in the eyes of love.”
The cure is increasing affirmation while reducing reliance on external validation; psychedelic therapy, they explain, can do both. Affirmation comes from therapists and the sense of connection to larger, mystical forces; the medicines help people validate their own being.
But deconstructing and reconstructing your self-concept is a monumental task; often an entire life’s work. With any psychedelic journey, but especially for LGBTQIA+ users, support before, during, and after the session is essential. Shortcomings of the current clinical framework — not to mention the dubious legal status of most medicines — means many may be better-served by shamanic, Indigenous, and underground providers, something queer researchers confirm.
“Even as a scientist, I don’t necessarily always advocate that the clinical trial is better,” Ching says. “There are some ways of knowing, like gray literature [research published outside formal academic channels] or having your own personal experience, that might be more beneficial than reading it in a scientific journal.”
For Adams, the approaches go hand in hand. Psychotherapy and prescription medication might be additional tools people use for ongoing support after psychedelics bring them the initial realization.
Peer-support networks can be incredibly helpful, providing that essential component for healing: affirmation. Groups such as the Queer Psychedelic Society and Transadelic connect LGBTQIA+ people who use psychedelics through messaging platforms and integration circles. Many trans and gender-diverse people, in particular, find connecting with like-minded others crucial.
“There was a time when our culture was celebrating queerness, but [you had to be] a specific type of queer. I think people are still having and perpetuating that trauma,” says Transadelic member Casey*. “I don’t seek out queer spaces. But I’m really grateful for this one.”
For Saoirse, “hav[ing] my transition journey of self-discovery held… within a conscious spiritual community… has made all the difference for my self-acceptance, self-love, self-confidence, and my quality of life.”
A Queer Medicine
The links between psychedelics, queer culture, and esotericism trace back to spiritual traditions and early LGBTQIA+ rights movements. In the 1960s and ’70s, groups such as the Cockettes and Radical Faeries challenged social norms and blurred counter-cultural boundaries, sprinkled with consciousness-expanding practices.
In fact, the Pride flag was conceived of during an acid trip in the era when the 60’s hippie culture began yielding to ’70s club culture, and queer people found community and catharsis on the dance floor using MDMA and LSD. The myriad colors reflecting off the mirrored disco ball inspired the flag’s late creator, Gilbert Baker, as a symbol that could replace the former logo, the upside-down pink triangle reclaimed from the Nazis.
In the psychedelic state, “the dissolution of ego boundaries becomes the dissolution of binary categories,” Lxo observes, and integration “begins to connect and unify them, bringing all the various different energies, even seemingly binary ones like masculine and feminine, into a kind of relation.”
It’s crucial for the clinical establishment to understand that queer and transness isn’t something that needs to be cured — and tying treatment to disorders and diagnoses echoes of the pathologized past. Sevelius says the focus should be healing past wounds while building coping strategies for facing continual trauma. Meanwhile, Ching wants to see psychedelic therapy “targeted to identity-affirmation processes… fostering the wellbeing and actualization of queer folks.
“Psychedelics have the power to shift the way we see and experience the world, including ourselves, remembering who we were before a traumatized culture had its way with us. As Ching says, “I know I was born this way, but it took MDMA to show it to me, to accept the emotional truth, … and live my life according[ly].”
Editor’s note: Some names have been changed to protect the identity of the source.*
In this edition of Psychedelics Weekly, Joe and Kyle dedicate the entire episode to one of their biggest passions: breathwork and the power of breath in reaching non-ordinary states of consciousness.
What many listeners may not know is that Psychedelics Today was created because of the lack of attention being paid to breathwork, transpersonal psychology, and the work of Stanislav Grof, so this episode serves as a deep dive into all the facets of our fascinating ability to reach psychedelic states simply by breathing in specific ways.
They discuss the history of breathwork; the various methods (box breathing, alternate nostril breathing, rebirthing breathwork, the Wim Hof method, Holotropic and Transpersonal breathwork, etc.); early and most powerful experiences; why Joe recommends becoming familiar with breathwork before a first psychedelic experience; how a breathwork practice can help enhance psychedelic experiences; and one of the most amazing things about breathwork: that it can give people a sense of agency they may never have felt before – that they can produce these experiences and insights with nothing but their own bodies.
If you’ve been curious about breathwork, this episode is a great starting point to learn more. And if you’re in the Northeast and are ready to attend a breathwork retreat and experience four Transpersonal breathwork sessions (two as a breather, two as a sitter), there are spots available in our upcoming Vital retreat on July 28 in Pennsylvania. Click here for more details.
In this episode, Joe interviews Erica Rex: award-winning journalist, past guest and writer, and participant in one of the first ever clinical trials using psilocybin to treat cancer-related depression; and Mona Sobhani, Ph.D.: cognitive neuroscientist and the author of Proof of Spiritual Phenomena: A Neuroscientist’s Discovery of the Ineffable Mysteries of the Universe.
As Rex discovered the power of psychedelics through a clinical trial, she discusses a huge problem she discovered: that researchers are not preparing participants enough for the ontological shock they may go through in trying to match unexplainable happenings to a rigid framework (or match the normal to a framework that has suddenly shifted) – that while patients have support at the clinic, it all disappears when they return to normal life. She believes that all too often, researchers are doing only what is necessary to be able to continue to receive funding, push drugs through the FDA, and prescribe a pill.
And as psychedelics changed Sobhani from very constrained scientific thinking to being very open to new ideas about consciousness and spirituality, she learned that many scientists had similar stories, and that coming out of the psychedelic closet is sometimes the best thing to do to normalize these ways of healing.
They discuss the challenges of newcomers trying to explain their experience without having the necessary language; how we still don’t truly understand mental illness; how the DSM just clusters symptoms to fit ‘disorders’ into a box; how society has started pathologizing anything we find unpleasant (which of course, is a part of being human); Gary Fisher’s research on using LSD and psilocybin for schizophrenic children, why science needs to combine consciousness research and psychedelics research, and more.
“I think most people (neuroscientists, a lot of psychologists): we don’t like labels. We don’t like the DSM (especially neuroscientists). It doesn’t make any sense; all you’re doing is clustering symptoms and calling it a disorder. It’s useful, but it’s not explanatory. …Everyone’s so focused on ‘What are the brain mechanisms?’ but we do need to pull out and [ask]: ‘What are the societal mechanisms? How is our society not supporting [us]? Why do we see such an increase in some of these disorders? It’s a really big question.” -Mona
“There was a big move to get grief made into a pathology that was defined in the DSM so it could be treated with a pill. Grief. This was during COVID. So now grief is a pathology and you can be diagnosed with ‘grieving disorder’ and treated for it. …Anything that does not serve the machine is now considered a disease and disorder and has to be fixed, which is unfortunate because it takes us away from every piece of authentic experience that we could ever possibly have. And that is dehumanizing, profoundly.” -Erica
“Our whole society’s not built around humanity, even though we talk a lot about humanity. But there’s no humane principles in business or in society. Nothing is built around what the human needs, and that’s why, even in psychiatry, you see [that] grief or these normal human needs are pathologized. …We’re just cutting off parts of ourselves and not catering to being a human because we hate being human so much, apparently. We hate the things that are inconvenient about it, that it’s like we just have to cut it off and block it off and go forward. But you can’t do that; then you have all these coping mechanisms that emerge and then all these disorders, because you’re not functioning in an environment that supports you being what you are.” -Mona
In this episode, Joe interviews Ph.D. student in the Drug Use and Behavior Lab at the University of Alabama Birmingham, Haley Maria Dourron.
She talks mostly about the paper she co-authored last year with Dr. Peter Hendricks and Camilla Strauss: “Self-Entropic Broadening Theory: Toward a New Understanding of Self and Behavior Change Informed by Psychedelics and Psychosis,” which analyzes the long-standing comparisons between the psychedelic state and psychosis, and points out important distinctions between the two – that science should be looking more at the way one processes information and their level of self-focus rather than similarities in outward behavior. She discusses what she calls entropic processing, which is essentially how one’s brain creates novel ideas, relations, and insights based on very loosened mental schemas: with new information being considered in new ways (with no filter), do the connecting pathways that seem like eureka moments actually make sense?
She discusses the broaden and build theory and the broadening of intentional scope; entropy; chronic LSD use and risk of psychosis; schizophrenia and psychedelics; why science needs to embrace naturalistic research, and more. As of this release date, there are still a few participatory spots left in her current study on the effect of psychedelic experiences on people who have a history of psychosis, so if you had an episode of psychosis at some point and have gone on to use psychedelics, she wants to hear your story.
“It’s such a wide open space where there’s still so much room to learn. And to me, it feels as if we’re opening a time capsule of all these different questions that have been kind of covered up, and we now have better technologies to probe what’s really going on.”
“A lot of work was actually done in the 1950s, giving people with schizophrenia LSD, psilocybin, [or] DMT, [and] oftentimes, apparently they had a reduced response. So that just shows how much more room we have to learn what really could be happening with these drugs, what populations necessarily should be excluded, [and] who is actually likely to experience adverse responses.”
“The acute experience might kind of serve as a catalyst for people creating changes, but then it’s ultimately the changes that they make in their daily lives afterwards, and if they’re putting in the work of building those enduring resources, if you will. It might be [easier] to do so in the immediate afterglow of a psychedelic experience, but you’ve still got to try if you want those enduring effects.”
In this episode of Vital Psychedelic Conversations, David interviews Vital instructor, Dr. Devon Christie: Senior Lead of Psychedelic Programs at Numinus, MAPS-certified MDMA therapist, and now four-time guest; and Vital student, Emefa Boamah: coach, facilitator, and trauma-informed intuitive guide specializing in embodiment.
We’ve all heard the trope, “It’s all in your mind,” but it’s also in your heart, soul, community, support system, and body – the focus of this episode. Christie and Boamah dive deep into the various aspects of the relationship between non-ordinary states and our bodies: ways to embody our bodies more; how the body is a fundamental source of truth; the benefit of checking in with one’s body after an experience (to validate or disprove what may have come up); the importance of movement and rest; the different bodies we inhabit (physical, emotional, energetic, mental, and spiritual); and ways to accept (and eventually love) our bodies in a society that’s always working to make us hate them – is self-love the ultimate act of defiance?
They also discuss the post-experience plasticity in everything, and the challenge of preparing an experiencer for something we can’t know; how facilitators and practitioners need to track their own subconscious feelings and reactions; the concept of embodied inquiry; the necessity of remaining curious and humble; and the idea of using integrative practices to find ways to become the person you want to be – the person you may have seen glimpses of in non-ordinary states.
And as this year’s edition comes to an end, Boamah reflects on her experiences with Vital, particularly the communal aspects of the retreat and how healing it was to literally be lifted up by her companions. If you’re curious about whether Vital is right for you, please come to an upcoming Q+A. Applications close March 26!
“Something happens with plant medicines (psychedelics (for me, with mushrooms)) that just takes you out of it and you see the inherent worth of who you are as a human, as a person. And integrating that process after coming out, I think, does a lot to help with self-love – not to say that cannot be attained without psychedelics, but it’s a different quality to it when you’re able to see yourself outside of yourself and see that you’re just valuable as you are.” -Emefa
“Not only are we fighting against us as human beings (like, whatever is happening internally), there’s also the societal expectations of how we ought to be. …There’s all these things where society is bent on making sure that we don’t feel comfortable in our bodies, so for me, from that lens, self-love is an act of reclamation. It’s like a defiant political act to reclaim who we are as people and spend that inherent worth without buying into what we’re being told to do, unapologetically – like, own it: ‘This is who we are and this is where we come from and we get to take space.’” -Emefa
“Those strongly reinforced habits: they restrict what we can attend to. They restrict our perception. So when they’re loosened under a psychedelic, we’ve got all these dimensions of experience that we can suddenly experience. That’s where, I think, not only in preparation, but in how we meet and attend to the emergent experience of people in psychedelic experiences, as practitioners, we need to be fluent ourselves in our own dimensions of experience of our being, so that we can meet and be curious and inquire and help that person to come to know themselves in all of that dimensionality, and then for their meaning to percolate up from that place.” -Devon
“The wisdom of ceremony, community ceremony, dance, music: that brings connection, that brings rhythm. And one nervous system by itself in the face of trauma is very vulnerable, many nervous systems together in the face of trauma: there’s resiliency. …Thankfully, in many ways, psychedelics help us to perceive this, and then in each person, perceive: ‘What’s the truth for me in this?’ and then we can try to live that.” -Devon