An Insight a Day

Some Notes on Psychedelics

I'm currently reading Tools of Titan (a book by Tim Ferriss summarizing the lessons and insights learned from interviewing world-class performers), and the section on James Fadiman was quite interesting.

The topic was on psychedelics, and below are some of my highlights from the book, though you can probably find them in the full interview transcript (pdf) for more context.

"What I'm finding is that microdoses of LSD or mushrooms may be very helpful for depression because they make you feel better enough that you do something about what's wrong with your life. We've made depression an illness. It may be the body's way of saying, 'You better deal with something, because it's making you really sad.'"


Which users have the most durable positive effects? In short, it's those who experience a "transcendental experience." Jim describes this as "the feeling or the awareness that you are connected not only to other people, but to other things and living systems and to the air you breathe. We tend to think we're kind of encapsulate."

"Obviously, the air I am breathing comes from all over the world, and some of it's a billion years old. Every 8 years, I get almost all new cells from something. Everything I eat is connected to me. Everyone I meet is connected to me. Right now you and I are sitting outside, and our feet our touching the ground. We're connected to the ground. Now, that's all easy to say intellectually and even poetically. But when you actually experience that you're part of this larger system, one of the things that you become aware of is that your ego—your personal identity—is not that big a part of you."

"What I learned was—and this is from my own personal experience in 1961—'Jim Fadiman' is a subset of me, and the me is very, very large and a lot smarter and knows a lot more than 'Jim Fadiman.'"

He saw a similar shift in subjects during his dissertation research, and they very often laughed during these realizations:

"In a very deep way, and it isn't the giggles of marijuana. It's the laughter of 'how could I have forgotten who I really am?' And then, much later in the day, when they're reintegrating and finding that they are surprisingly still in the same body they came in with... one person said very beautifully, 'I was back in the prison of all of the things that hold me back, but I could see that the door was locked from the inside.'"


There's a saying in the psychedelic world: "If you get the answer, you should hang up the phone." In other words, when you get the message you need, you shouldn't keep asking (i.e., having more experiences), at least until you've done some homework assignments, or used the clarity gained to make meaningful changes. It's easy to use the medicine as a crutch and avoid doing your own work, as the compounds themselves help in the short term as antidepressants.

Compulsive users generally neglect critical preparation and post-session integration work. MDMA is a wonderful tool for releasing people from PTSD, for instance, but the success can usually be attributed, in large part, to preparing for the experience with a psychotherapist, having two guides (male and female), and spending a lot of time talking and integrating after the experience. There's no point in going to a motivational seminar if you're not going to take any next steps.

Psychedelics can be a sensitive topic for some people, but I think it might be a good idea to learn more about it and maybe try it (under supervision) one day.