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Psychedelic Drugs: The Alteration of the Self

Psychedelic Drugs: The Alteration of the Self

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Published by Michael Erlewine
A look at psychedelic drugs such as LSD in terms of their long-term effects on the psyche and the self, with an approach to stabilization of the experience. Not a scientific study, but an experiential examination.
A look at psychedelic drugs such as LSD in terms of their long-term effects on the psyche and the self, with an approach to stabilization of the experience. Not a scientific study, but an experiential examination.

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Published by: Michael Erlewine on Jan 12, 2011
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08/10/2013

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Psychedelic Drugs: The Alteration of the Self
 
 
Psychedelic Drugs: The Alteration of the Self
 
Conscious-Altering Drugs
Note: This article is not for everyone. It will make the most sense to those who have experienced a consciousness- altering drug trip and had trouble forgetting it or stabilizing afterward. Here goes: 
Psychedelic drugs, mainly LSD, had aprofound effect on me back in the1960s. It would not be exaggerating tosay that they changed the course of mylife, and for the better. That is the goodnews. The bad news is that I wasunprepared for what I experienced onacid, and it took me months and yearsto stabilize. This writing is for those ofyou like me who have had an intenseexperience on psychedelics and aretrying to sort it all out.
Psychedelics
There are all kinds of psychoactivesubstances that alter our senses orconsciousness. Recreational drugs likepot alter the central nervous system withthe result that the senses areperceptively enhanced or altered. After
taking recreational drugs, we get “high,”
but eventually return to normal. Somesubstances speed us up (uppers) andothers slow us down (downers), buteither way, when the drug experiencepasses, we are more or less as we werebefore.Psychedelic drugs differ from most othersubstances in that they appear toactually alter consciousness or change
the “Self” in
predictable ways, ways thatcan persist or endure after thetemporary effect of the drug has wornoff
. The word “psychedelic” comes from
the Greek and means to manifest orshow the psyche. Psychedelics certainlydo that, and they often have beenreserved for spiritual or religious use. Iwould second that. In fact, psychedelicslike peyote, psilocybin, and jimsonweedhave been used by shamans andinitiates for centuries. However, LSD(acid) is perhaps the most commonlyused modern psychedelic.It is fair to say that many of us havesmoked marijuana just for the sensoryexperience, for a good time, but at thesame time we may think long and hardwhether they want to take LSD and gothrough all of the changes that drug canentail. LSD requires considerabledowntime after the experience has wornoff
to get the „self‟ back in working order 
once
again. Psychedelics are a „serious‟
drug and they require a commitment toboth the process and the effects.This writing is about psychedelicsubstances and their impact onconsciousness, with suggestions onhow to work with their long-term effects.In particular the focus here is on the
nature of “bad” psychedelic trips, where
the residual drug effects have been asmuch confusing as clarifying. Included isan alternative (and perhaps new) way tolook at how to resolve internalinconsistencies resulting from theaftermath of psychedelic substances.Give it a read.
Preconceptions
In this piece, I point out some veryuseful features of psychedelic drugs, butif you are thinking of taking acid or anypsychedelic, I suggest you think again,carefully. There are at least a couple ofpoints to keep in mind before droppingthat tab.First, it is the characteristic ofpsychedelic trips to be exactly what youthink they will be or, should you getbummed somehow, they are exactlywhat you most fear, whichever comes
 
Psychedelic Drugs: The Alteration of the Self
 
first. More likely the two will alternate asyou struggle to have any kind of controlover your mind. In other words, an acidtrip is tailor made just for you, evenmore accurate than a wife or husband atknowing just where your buttons are andwhat you are most worried or frightenedabout. It is all just too familiar, includingyour most vulnerable areas.There is no such thing as an incognitoacid trip, as in just being a bystander.Acid is not passive like watching amovie, reading a book, or looking at art.Instead, it is interactive like playing avideo game, and in this video you arethe main point of it all, and has yournumber down cold. Here inside andprivileged information is the name of thegame. Whatever is THE most vulnerablearea of your psyche, that is where youwill end up on an acid trip, so bewarned.
Second, the “you” who decides to take
the drug will be the first casualty of the
process, so don‟t count on your normal
sense of self-control or self-preservation. The
self
gets hammeredstraight away on LSD and is usuallyshattered before the first couple of hoursgo by. Imagine driving without a steeringwheel and you will be close to the rightimage. Your sense of self is the victimon any intense acid trip.
It is like instantly being in the after-death bardo state that the Tibetan Buddhist write of, only here it is the bardo state after you lose your sense of self or have found empty and useless. Who else is there? That you will find out, but it is obviously no one you know.
Back at the Beginning
LSD was virtually unknown in the early1960s, although rumors of it were allaround us. The word on the street backthen was that acid (as we came to callit), unlike any drug we knew up to thatpoint (aside from Peyote), actually couldalter the mind itself. Of course, most ofthis was pure speculation because fewof us had yet taken or had any realexperience. We trembled at what thatmight mean, but of course were stillintrigued. Not everyone rushed out to tryit. It was that down side that gave uspause, that acid could permanently alterand damage the mind. What could that
mean, “
permanently
alter?”
That phrasealone kept many drug enthusiasts atbay.I know from personal experience thatLSD is a very powerful drug, onecapable of altering consciousness notonly temporarily, but in many ca ses fora long time afterward - years. Noargument. What I want to discuss hereis the fact that part of the problem withconsciousness-altering drugs like LSD isnot only the drugs themselves, but ourown lack of knowledge and familiaritywith the context and nature of the minditself and with the various states of theself and consciousness. This is true nowas it was true back then.
Let‟s start off with the
ancient Easternview that the true nature of the mind
cannot be altered, but the “self‟ can be.
Here in the West we tend to think of themind, consciousness, and the self asthe same thing. And I am not simplyengaging in semantics here, so those ofyou with a history of hallucinogenicdrugs bear with me. You should be ableto understand what is coming. I havesomething to say that should interestyou
. What „is‟ true is that LSD and other 
h
allucinogens are „self‟
-altering drugs,consciousness-altering drugs, which isanother matter altogether from
mind-altering
, one we will discuss.

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