Changing Our Minds
Psychedelic Sacraments and
the New Psychotherapy
Synergistic Press, Spring 2017
Changing Our Minds is an exper-iential tour through a social, spiritual and scientific revolution that is redefining our culture’s often confusing relationship
with psychoactive substances. Veteran journalist Don Lattin chronicles the inspiring stories
of pioneering neuroscientists, psychotherapists, spiritual leaders and ordinary people seeking to lead healthier lives by combining psychedelic drugs, psychotherapy, and the wise use of ancient plant medicines.
Fifty years after psychedelic culture first flowered in the 1967 “Summer of Love,” a new era of exploration has begun.
In ground-breaking clinical trials, specially trained therapists employ Ecstasy (MDMA) to help U.S. veterans struggling with the psychological aftermath of war. Other psychiatrists in govern-ment-approved research offer psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, to alcoholics trying to get sober and to cancer patients struggling with the existential distress of a life-threatening illness. Meanwhile, new imaging technology has enabled neuroscientists to map the psychedelic brain in real time, deepening our understanding of human consciousness.
This new wave of psychedelic study is both scientific and spiritual. Holding center stage
in the shamanic revival is ayahuasca, a psychedelic tea brewed from two Amazonian plants and ritually used to promote spiritual and psycho-logical insight.
In the United States, the ayahuasca gospel is preached on two fronts. The first is via an underground network led by spiritual guides, some of them trained by South American shamans. The second front is a missionary movement launched by two Brazilian churches that use ayahuasca in their religious rites. They have established congregations in the United States that, under the limited protection of a 2006 Supreme Court ruling, can legally dispense this psychedelic communion.
Research into beneficial uses for LSD, mescaline and psilocybin dates back to the 1950s and early 1960s. Those studies were interrupted by a political backlash against liberation movements fueled, in part, by those very mind-expanding substances. That crackdown stopped the advance of psychedelic science for most of the 1980s and 1990s, but the times, they are once again changing.
In 2017, two organizations leading the second psychedelic revolution are poised to begin
a final round of government-approved clinical trials in which hundreds of patients with post traumatic stress disorder, depression, substance abuse,
or severe anxiety will undergo psychotherapy sessions fueled by MDMA and psilocybin. Scientists and donors affiliated with those organizations, the Heffter Research Institute and the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, have formed and funded two new organiza-tions that hope to bring those psychoactive compounds out of the research lab and into the medical mainstream.
Advocates of both the thera-peutic and the spiritual use of psychedelics are already celebrating the start of the “post-Prohibition era.” That party may be a bit premature, but the government is certainly more open to scientific research into beneficial uses for these
drugs and to the idea that at least some citizens have a constitutional right to explore these realms in religious rites.
The medicalization of marijuana may be the model for changing attitudes and public policies regarding psilocybin, MDMA
and similar substances. On the cannabis front, that shift came as a state-by-state decriminali-zation of medicinal marijuana followed by full legalization in some states.
Many people are not waiting for government permission. Rising numbers of consciousness explorers – including many in Silicon Valley – have begun experimenting with microdosing, taking subliminal or nearly subliminal amounts of LSD or psilocybin in an effort to foster creativity and improve cognitive function.
At the same time, growing numbers of medical doctors and psychotherapists have begun using ketamine, a prescription drug with psychedelic properties, to treat depression and promote psychological insight.
Meanwhile, at clinics south of border, heroin and pain pill addicts are healed with ibogaine, a psychedelic compound derived from a West African shrub that is illegal in the U.S. but not in
Mexico. Some of these rehab centers also use 5-MeO-DMT, a powerful, short-acting psyche-delic derived from the venom of a Sonoran desert toad.
Psychedelic plants and chemicals are not for everyone. They affect different people in diverse ways, depending in large part on one’s intention and the setting in which these drugs are taken. But, in sometimes subtle and other times dramatic ways, they often inspire awe and wonder, providing the heightened insight and meaning-fulness one may also find in dreams or religious excitation.
In Changing Our Minds – Psyche-delic Sacraments and the New Psychotherapy, author Don Lattin builds on his two previous works, Distilled Spirits and the best-selling Harvard Psychedelic Club, which charted social movements and early scientific research fueled by these compounds. His research for this new book took him to Mexico, Brazil, Switzerland, and a variety of research labs and shamanic circles across the United States.
In an effort to better understand these states of consciousness, the author had his own mind-altering encounters with ayahuasca, psilocybin, MDMA, ketamine and 5-MeO-DMT – taking them as a participant observer in contexts that mirrored the various therapeutic and spiritual settings in which they are used today.
“As someone who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s, I lived through the first wave of psychedelic exploration and the ‘Just Say No’ backlash against personal use and scienific research in the 1980s,” said Lattin, an award-winning journalist who covered religion and spirituality at the San Francisco Chronicle for more
than two decades.
“There really has been a changing of minds over the last decade
by government regulators, university administrators and the mainstream media,” he said. “There is a sudden openness to studying the potential benefits to psychedelic-assisted psycho-therapy. There’s also a new acknowledgment that churches and other spiritual communities have a constitutional right to use peyote and ayahuasca in their religious rituals.”
Changing Our Minds – available this spring from Synergetic Press – is the essential primer for understanding and navigating
this new consciousness-raising territory.