How hallucinogens can help create a different type of progressive movement.

How hallucinogens can help create a different type of progressive movement

By E.F Nicholson 

24280TED_678x320_frontIn Graham Hancock’s banned TED talk (that must have got him more views than if it had been allowed), he raised the issue of our “sovereignty of consciousness”. The question as to whether we do, in fact, have sovereignty over our minds is a subject about which there is very little analysis within even the most progressive of media outlets. If you haven’t seen his talk, then I would strongly recommend watching it here. In it, he outlines his personal journey, which brought him into contact with ‘ayahuasca’, an Amazonian hallucinogenic medicine that has been used by shamans in South America throughout the last 4000 years. He discusses how it fundamentally changed his life in a very affirmative and powerful way. During part of the talk, he looks at the fact that the active ingredient (DMT) is a ‘controlled substance’, effectively making it illegal, along with just about every other known hallucinogenic drug. He considers how its criminalisation has been used as part of the “war on consciousness”, as he explains here:

I stand here invoking the hard-won right of freedom of speech, to call for and demand another right to be recognized, and that is the right of adult sovereignty over consciousness. There’s a war on consciousness in our society, and if we as adults are not allowed to make sovereign decisions about what to experience with our own consciousness while doing no harm to others, including the decision to use responsibly ancient and sacred visionary plants, then we cannot claim to be free in any way… It’s useless for our society to go around the world imposing our form of democracy on others while we nourish this rot at the heart of society and we do not allow individual freedom over consciousness.

The biggest intrusion

pill-manWe see here that the Establishment not only wants to control the way in which we think through its all-pervading corporate-sponsored propaganda, but also insists on demarcating which states of awareness are permitted, and which aren’t. The criminalisation of hallucinogens is one example of how control extends beyond “what” we think into “how” we think. This attack on mental sovereignty also extends into the field of mental health. During the past 20-30 years, we have started to turn natural human emotions into pathologies. Grief becomes Major Depressive Disorder; worrying about being sick is Somatic Symptom Disorder; temper tantrums are instances of Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder; while gluttony is Binge Eating Disorder. Soon, no doubt, almost everyone will have Attention Deficit Disorder. All of these labels given to various forms of mental states effectively enable them to be treated with drugs. Yet, most insidiously, it identifies the spectrum of the human experience as something wrong that needs to be fixed. It tells us not to just accept that when we lose someone we will experience a time of immense grief and sadness. As Graham Hancock points out, our right to simply “feel what we feel” is under attack. Then we see more violent and direct attacks on the state of mind that some people choose reside within. Extensive forced drug doses of very powerful anti-psychotics are used on some citizens, thereby taking away their freedom to choose how they deal with their thoughts. Stories of crazy, knife-wielding schizophrenics “off their meds” mislead the public into thinking this is a safety issue; when, in fact, the rate of violence is the same within the mentally-ill population as it is among those who don’t suffer from any mental affliction. If you read stories from the grass roots consumer activist group “Mad in America”, who have been campaigning to have forced drugging outlawed, you would be horrified to know what gets done to people – right now, in 2014 – supposedly because “it’s for the best”.

The real damage

The twisted irony of the way the world is set up is that, if there really are drugs that ought to be made illegal as a genuine “hazard to people’s health”, then it wouldn’t be hallucinogens at all! In fact, those substances to be banned would be many of the pharmaceutical drugs used in the treatment of mental illness, starting with anti-psychotic medication. The impact of the longer-term use of anti-psychotic drugs includes Tardive Dyskinesia, an irreversible disorder. In addition to this, the long-term use induces a kind of chemical lobotomy and ultimately leads to brain damage . All this should be weighed up against the very dubious claims about their actual benefit. Then there are studies showing that most anti-depressants sold work no better than a placebo; yet unlike a placebo they can have devastating consequences, such as increasing suicidal tendencies and a host of other nasty side-effects. And no-one has any idea what the long-term impact  might be for the 5 million American children currently being prescribed the “Amphetamine for the family”, Ritalin. What is evident is that it has nothing to do with what “is” or” isn’t” a health hazard; rather, if a drug contributes to pacifying the population while enriching large corporations, then it will always get the green light.

Stating the obvious

cigarettes-and-alcohol-007The often-cited reasons for keeping hallucinogens illegal are so flimsy that I could imagine a high school debating team ripping them to shreds in less than five minutes. The crux of their criminalisation is based on them being some kind of “public health hazard”. If that logic were honestly applied, in addition to the pharmaceutical industry many other global corporations would need to stop producing a huge number of other substances, given the colossal negative impact they have on the health of the population at large. In the US, there are 480,000 smoking-related deaths per year, 80,000 alcohol-related deaths, and 22,000 accidental overdoses of opiate painkillers. The mortality rate of other hallucinogens, like hallucinogenic mushrooms, DMT, LSD and mescaline, is zero. It depends on how you classify hallucinogens, of course: if you were to include modern ‘designer drugs’ like MDMA among them, then about the number would be 50-70 deaths per year. However, most of these cases involve the taking of MDMA in combination with other drugs which also have speed-like effects, such as methamphetamine or cocaine.

In the beginning

When we look the historical context of how hallucinogens became illegal, a broader perspective begins to take shape. Under the Nixon administration, the 1970 Comprehensive Drug Act introduced a “scheduling” of drugs, regulated by the FDA, bypassing the normal process of creating a law against them. Marijuana and LSD were put in the same ‘schedule’ as heroin. Other hallucinogenic drugs have since been added to that category, making them illegal, too. The Drug Enforcement Agency was also created under the Nixon administration to execute the war on drugs. To sum things up, psychedelic and hallucinogenic drugs are illegal because law enforcement wants to keep social order. We have then been bombarded over the last 40 years by a ceaseless propaganda campaign aimed at creating fear and spreading misinformation, effectively maintaining these drugs’ illegal status, aided and abetted by mainstream society.

Where they supress, we must invest

scottish-flag-371.336x254There are events and actions that established power want to eliminate, that happen to be in the interests of both the Establishment and the public at large, such as a widespread pandemic (they are bad for people and bad for business – unless you are selling the cure, of course!). Yet there also things that the establishment wishes to supress or crush, solely because they see them as threats to their power. We see this in the war against Wikileaks, the criminalisation of whistle-blowers, controlling the internet, and a number of other actions that are sanctioned solely for the purposes of maintaining power in the hands of the powerful.  This could be seen very clearly during  the build-up to the Scottish referendum. Every manifestation of  Establishment power was mobilised, from the mainstream media, the IMF and the US president to former US presidents, banking CEOs and leaders of all the mainstream political parties. With all these forces aggressively ranged against independence, it was hard not to think: “Wow, this is really good sign that something real is happening here; given that all these guys are really desperate for it not to happen!” It’s the same with hallucinogens: the very fact that the Nixon Administration at the time felt so threatened by it should tell you that it has some potential to “awaken” – rather than subdue – the citizenry. The idea of millions of people taking consciousness-altering psychedelics sounds like the musings of a group of stoned teenagers; but the fact is, that if it actually happened, it could have a far-reaching impact on how we act and see the world.

Where we are

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????The mess the world is in, and the ecocide we are moving towards, are, according to shamans in the Amazon, consequences of the fact that humanity has lost its connection with “spirit”. Without that to anchor us, our egos are let loose to enlarge themselves over and over again. The modern veneration of material wealth, status and power is an expression of people’s egos running rampant. In many communities, the continued use of hallucinogenic medicines helps to keep alive an awareness of the ‘big picture’ and to solidify the understanding that there are far more important things in this world than our egos.

The losing battle

The fight against the malevolent and unjust forces of corporate and state power is not going well. If climate change is a measure of how well we are doing, it is most definitely a fight we are losing. With the fight being lost, the world has been set up according to the rules of bullies and aggressors. These, who are the least among us, lack imagination, creative insight and empathy. The system they have forced us to live within is like a crude sandpit where the only game we are allowed to play is “tyrant and slaves”. Although this model is simplistic, it’s also cunning and menacing as it puts in place a mechanism that is designed to crush dissent and create distractions from any kind of rebellion. Through fear, greed and other temptations or punishments, it continues to hold a vice-grip on how the world operates.

What’s missing?              

Galaxy MindThe “left” (or progressive movement) is missing something, meaning we are constantly in the shadow of the ‘big bully’. It’s here that I believe the use of  hallucinogenic medicine has the potential to create a very different type of progressive movement: one that isn’t proposing something “better”; rather one that is built on a completely different understanding of the universe and what our purpose in life is.

There have been recent studies showing the successful use of psilocybin (magic mushrooms) in relieving anxiety and the fear of death among terminally ill patients. It makes sense that, if someone’s understanding of death can be so radically transformed for the better, then so too could their understanding of life. If we are to stand any chance of survival in the future, we need a new game plan, as the playbook we are currently working from is not working. The term “paradigm shift” has become so clichéd that it has been rendered almost meaningless, but with the proper use of hallucinogens a genuine paradigm shift is entirely possible. With things being as wretched as they are, only radical solutions will do.

The opportunity

The use of hallucinogens, in the right setting with the right support, can radically alter our experience, both of ourselves and each other. I participated in an ‘ayahuasca’ ceremony for the first time earlier on this year, in what is called a psycho-therapeutic approach. It was without a doubt one of the most profound experiences I have ever had. It is definitely not a ‘fun’ or recreational medicine, as part of the whole experience felt like being wrapped up in Wonder Woman’s ‘lasso of truth’, shoved into the Hall of Mirrors, and then not let out until my tormented cries turned into howl of laughter. To begin with, I was surrounded by people vomiting, weeping, screaming and laughing; and started to wonder: “Man, who are these crazies!” Until after about 30 minutes, that is, when I became one of them! Then comes a certain ‘tipping point’, at which you feel on the point of losing your mind, while plummeting down the rabbit hole…

The medicine works in a powerful way, connecting us to the most loving part of ourselves, and then taking us on a journey into Hades, where we can see everything buried away in the darkness of our shadow. We see and experience very confronting things; memories returned that I didn’t even know I had forgotten. Yet, as confronting and painful much of it was, it was also profoundly healing: we realise that there is nothing inside us to be afraid of, and we learn that we can love our pain instead of running away from it.

embrace_shadow_self490Yet one of its most profound aspects was the experience of being connected to everything that is. Reading about “oneness” is one thing; but actually experiencing it, right down to the depth of your cells, is something different altogether. The profundity of that experience left me with an awareness that, despite all the injustices and wrongs in the world, there is a presence that is sentient and loving that underlies everything. I became aware that this presence is not “out there”, but woven into the fabric of everything there is. Knowing this didn’t compel me to passively sit under a tree and meditate, though. Instead, it encouraged me to know that whatever changes are made ‘out there’ to make this world a better place occur within a wider and more mysterious context. It also brought to my awareness a recognition that we might not, in fact, be as limited as we think we are; and that what we do, say, think or feel matters just as much, as in some weird way it is connected to everything else.

Seeing things differently

So, from an activism point of view, it does lessen the force of despair that, at times, seems so hard to keep at bay. Yet, most importantly, it provides the understanding that, for any lasting and significant change to occur, it must arise from a shift of consciousness, personally and collectively. We need to see and experience the world from outside the narrow framework that the established powers aim to keep us in. Bill Hicks understood the full power and upheaval that this kind of awareness could bring:

Bill-Hicks-001I realized our true nature is spirit, not body, that we are eternal beings, and God’s love is unconditional ‘n’ there’s nothing we can ever do to change that. It is only our illusion that we are separate from God, or that we are alone. In fact the reality is we are one with God and He loves us. Now, if that isn’t a hazard to this country… Do you see my point? How are we gonna keep building nuclear weapons, you know what I mean? What’s gonna happen to the arms industry when we realize we’re all one. Ha ha ha ha ha! It’s gonna fuck up the economy! The economy that’s fake anyway! Ha ha ha! Which would be a real bummer. You know. You can see why the government’s cracking down…. “Drugs that open your eyes… make you realize how you’re being fucked every day of your life. Those drugs–are against the law.” ~Bill Hicks 

I don’t know what a revolution lead by these types of experiences might bring, but what I do know is that actions that are born from a different place evolve in a different way. I don’t think we can defeat the ‘powers that be’, necessarily; but I do believe we can begin to build an alternative beyond the confines of the sandpit we have been put in. I believe ayahuasca and other hallucinogen medicines are making a resurgence that can help people re-connect with a part of themselves that they have lost. For me, it illuminated a kind of light within me that remains lit, long after the experience itself had faded. Of course, though, these insights have to be integrated and incorporated into everyday life: over time, you can feel the full force of habit and conditioning gradually resuming their place in the driver’s seat. Yet, despite that, the light ignited in me has not gone away, and it has become a place I continue to draw strength and hope from.

How the impossible becomes possible

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????As Graham Hancock so astutely suggested, if every politician were to participate in three ayahuasca ceremonies before entering politics, we would be living in a very different world. I believe these ancient medicines are a key part of how we can start to do things differently: they can help to bring us towards a pivotal change in awareness, and towards true empowerment of the people. And if we are really looking to build a ‘new world’, then it has to start from a new place. Or maybe a better way of describing it would be a place that has never left us, but that has remained hidden for so long (as we have lost our connection with it). If enough people were to regain their connection to the “spirit” that the Amazonian shamans say we have lost, we could open the door to a totally new frontier – a frontier beyond which everything that has seemed impossible, suddenly becomes possible.

If you liked this article, this is an other article I wrote as soon as I got back from my first ayahausca experience mentioned in this article. Its some attempt to translate those very hard to define insights and feelings into some working understanding of how to make the world a better place , its titled  Feeling our love and pain : our greatest act of civil disobedience 

 If interested in experiencing Ayahuasca…

If its something you are interested exploring further these are the guys I did my 3 day ceremony with in Holland.

I can’t compare them to anyone else, as they are the only people I have been with but I found them very professional, caring and experienced in the whole process. You will hear a lot about “set and setting” being a critical part of the experience ,for me the sacred voyage team definitely created a very safe and comfortable atmosphere, for both the ceremony and the post ceremony processing part. Also it was a lot easy than working out how I get to the Amazon 🙂


14 thoughts on “How hallucinogens can help create a different type of progressive movement.

  1. My own experiences with hallucinogens were varied due to the way I was introduced to them. The undisclosed content and strength made the whole thing a bit hit and miss. Nevertheless, I realised how important they were in making me see the world with different eyes. And I know they had a profound effect on the way I think.

    You might be interested in reading my blog article on drugs: ‘The Myth Peddlars – the war on drugs has failed’. It is very easy to find. I have not linked to it, as I don´t know your policy on posting links, but you can always edit a link in if you think it adds to the debate.


  2. “To sum things up, psychedelic and hallucinogenic drugs are illegal because law enforcement wants to keep social order.”
    I thought that was an interesting sentence, but no things previously mentioned had “summed up” to support it. I think law enforcement wants to keep the funding they receive directly from the WOD in their coffers.
    Good on the telling of Nixon’s WOD, and I can attest first hand to the energetic propaganda fed to schoolchildren.


    • Hey mo, thanks for you comment.Your right I didn’t provide evidence of this assertion.I read a number of pieces that looked at the major policy makers of the time under Nixon , in which that conclusion was drawn, so I will try dig up that references and add it as link. I understand now why they are continued to be illegal , given the money involved but I was more looking at why in the first place, rather than why now. thanks E.F


  3. As a clinical psychology student–who has extensively studied psychedelics, I wanted to point out some of the gross misrepresentations in terms of how this article discusses mental health issues. The article states that, “during the past 20-30 years, we have started to turn natural human emotions into pathologies.” Naturally, the author presents zero evidence for this claim, and fails to mention clear empirical evidence that actually supports the idea that several disorders are grossly under treated and under diagnosed (including depressive disorders). The author then goes on to state, “Grief becomes Major Depressive Disorder; worrying about being sick is Somatic Symptom Disorder; temper tantrums are instances of Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder; while gluttony is Binge Eating Disorder.” While these statements betray a profound naivety in terms of the precise methodology of contemporary diagnostic practice, my greater concern is in how such statements stigmatize individuals who seek treatment for legitimate psychological conditions. While it is convenient for the author–and Scientologists like him who deride the mental health field, to make ignorant blanket statements about the mental health field: it is quite a different story for those of us who work diligently from a place of compassion alleviate the psychological suffering of others. But this final statement is the most absurd, “Soon, no doubt, almost everyone will have Attention Deficit Disorder.” I refer the author to the recent consensus statement on ADHD: . It is one thing to use psychedelics simply to get ‘high,’ but some of us are utilizing the insights from our psychedelic experience to compassionately work for the well-being of others. If you are not going to do any good, that is your choice. But, you might consider refraining from stigmatizing those who seek help for their psychological suffering. This would certainly allow those of us who work compassionately in the mental health field to do our jobs, and do them well.


    • Thanks for your input. I would like to response to your assertions and claims point by point if I may. You state I don’t provide empirical evidence that we are over diagnosing normal human experience as problems to be fixed. This point was used to further illustrate how people’s mental sovereignty can be infringed on and it also points out the hypocritical nature of how some drugs are ok and other aren’t not. As it wasn’t the focus on the article I didn’t provide copious amounts of data to validate that. Yet this understanding of collusion of big pharma and the medical mental health field has been documented and discussed by many well informed people. You could read any of these authors to get a better understanding of that process.

      So there is actually evidence of what I discussed, it’s just not allows much of voice as doesn’t fit into the current model of how mental health is treated. Your response is the standard dismissal of anything said outside the current accepted frame of reference, along with the predicable Scientology slur.

      Nowhere in the article did I say there aren’t people who are genuinely suffering and we should ignore and disregard them. What I see is the process of how a field is co-opted by a billion dollar industry that starts to put profit before the wellbeing of adults and children. If you want empirical evidence of this happening look at GSK off label promotion of Paxil to teenagers with full awareness it increase suicidal l tendencies. This is blatant corporate sociopathy . The fine they got was just built into the cost of doing business.

      Look at profit that has come from broadening the diagnosis of bipolar to children for anti–psychotic like Risperdal. I think it’s you that is actual naive if you think all this happens for well-being of patients.
      Regarding “While these statements betray a profound naivety in terms of the precise methodology of contemporary diagnostic practice” . I am well aware of the “methodology of contemporary diagnostic practice “ is currently a show of hands ever few years at the DSM- conference, is it not?

      Regarding those who work in the field, you shouldn’t assume I have had no experience of the mental health industry. I have had member of my family with schizophrenia, who spent literally years in locked psychiatric wards. I pretty much spent most of 20s sitting around in these wards and witnessing all the stuff that goes with how mental ill people are treated. So my opinions are based not only I what I read and understand but also my own very personal experience of the mental health system. You can be a critic of the psychiatric system also without being a scientologist and without deny the existence of genuine pain people go through. Go on to Mad in America and see what many survivors of psychiatric care have to say about the mental health system.Or is their opinions and experience for you not legitimate? They may not be students of clinical psychology but if anyone has a right to point out the wrongdoings of mental health system it those who have gone through the system itself.It’s these people we need to listen to, not academics, policy makers, professors and psychiatrists. I am happy to continue discussing this further if you wanted to respond. Thanks E. F


    • Thanks Cosmo for the positive feedback. I am big believer of synchronicity and I find that myself that a certain times something out of nowhere comes along and affirms or helps clarify something that was going on in my mind. I think getting more involved in the whole path of psychedelics opens you up to that more mysterious and magical world. Its such a great feeling to be humbled into knowing “I have no friggin idea whats going on” but whatever it is, it’s vast, loving and ever present.


  4. Interesting article, cheers for publishing it.

    The issue of our “sovereignty of consciousness” is raised implying that by making halucinogens illegal the TPTB* wish to control each individuals conciousness.

    Yet the author includes this line ‘The use of hallucinogens, in the right setting with the right support’, does this mean that there is a wrong setting/wrong support and if so who decides this.

    My gripe with the article is with the embracing of shamanism as necessary to halucinogenic enlightenment, a shaman is a guide who will lead you down their chosen path.
    I’m someone who likes to ski off piste, to find my own way, I don’t feel the need to shell out >$200 for some immersive theatre when I can improvise my own stage play and pick up some DMT for <$80 (which is still quite pricey, almost middle class)

    Don't get me wrong, halucinogens are powerful substances and are certainly not for everyone, it takes an amount of bravery/reckleness to embark on a journey never knowing if you will return.
    My recommendation for both the author and Hancock is that you should repeat the experience a few times, each time you will learn something new until you finally have the revelation – after this happens you will not get anything new from the substance and further repetitions will become unsatisfactory/boring.

    Whilst the revelation will be life changing for the better (it will give you an understanding of perspective) it will be tinged with the sadness that that particular journey has come to an end.

    *TPTB get their authority from you, they are powerless without your consent, the lock on your cell door is on the inside and the keys are in your pocket.

    I can see this because I stand on the shoulder of a giant


    • Thanks for the input Bob. There is nothing inherent in what you are saying I would disagree with. The statement “in the right set and setting” does assume there is a wrong one but meant more in what feels right rather what is right, so to speak. Seeing as you jump of large heights in the snow does put you in small percentage of the population. Most people, including myself, are more in the scardy-cat variety. So when you take something that which you know will be like psychedelic rollercoaster, I think having experienced people around to support and help you “if you need it”, is more reassuring way to come at it. To just neck it down in your bedroom one Saturday night and hope for the best is more risky. So if you like the risk, no problem but I think for many being left isolated and alone would in itself put them off doing it. I think it also adds to the reverence of what it actually is you taking and that doesn’t have to be in shamanic sense. I see already there hybrids being created, Sufi circles taking ayahuasca things like that, so the shamans of the amazon don’t have an monopoly on it but they do have quite history and experience which I think counts for something. So think it’s a very personal thing and having done both taken stuff on my own and then taken stuff in therapeutic setting. I definitely go more from the later. As there is an extra dimension to it as you when share that experience with people. At one point in the ayahusca there was lady near me crying, this deep soulful, almost ancient timeless pain, that just went through me. I felt it was my pain, it was all of humanities pain, crying out through her. It was a really powerful experience and connection. So your right there isn’t a wrong or right way, just the way that works best for you.


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