Like many fellow Americans, I had my first psychedelic experience in the middle of the pandemic, in a place where the use of psychedelics is decriminalized.
I grew up in a Communist country, and the ban and stigma against psychedelics were tremendous. There was no plant medicine available, and I didn’t know even one person using anything other than alcohol and prescription drugs.
I read Michael Pollan’s book How to Change Your Mind about five years ago and read all the articles in the New York Times about the benefits of psychedelics for mental health. I was intrigued. I didn’t know what to expect; everybody’s descriptions were vague and hard to grasp. I needed a lived experience.
So, with the help of one of my mentors, at the ripe age of 48 years old, I had my first psychedelic experience. It was truly beautiful. All I did was stare into my mentor’s eyes for a few hours, and had incredible visuals. Everything I knew looked different, and I saw the world with whole new eyes like I was a child again.
The smallest details of the world were incredibly beautiful and meaningful.
That is all to say that my interest was ignited to the point that I have enrolled in the Synthesis program, a Netherlands- based training program to become a psychedelic guide. I wanted to learn everything and anything there was to learn about these magic substances and their effects on the brain, behavior, and mental health. It became obvious to me why psychedelics would be associated with the remission of depression. A sense of wonder and awe, a renewed interest in the natural world, and a sense of the interconnectedness of all humans and sentient beings could definitely account for lifting the heaviest of depressions.
During my year-long training, I made many wonderful connections, and I did get to know people who have been doing underground work with plant medicine for many years. I learned so many new things, unconventional treatment modalities, and points of view.
At the end of my training, one of the people I met asked me if I wanted to be an assistant facilitator for a group ceremony inside one of the psychedelic churches.
The experience was truly remarkable. I have witnessed a seasoned facilitator at work, a psychology professor turned shaman, interject himself into the psyche of the 12 people in the group making the journey. I have witnessed him spooning people in an altered state. I was confused and perplexed. As a physician, I have abided by a very strict code of ethics in my 20+ years of practice, and this was a very unusual practice.
The way I see it, is that the patients/clients/churchgoers are in an extremely vulnerable state when they are under the influence of plant medicine. Not only is there extreme vulnerability, but this is a highly impressionable state. It is almost like imprinting: You know the story with the little ducklings hatching out of eggs. If the first thing they see when they hatch is a robot or a human, they get imprinted with that person, or robot, or cat, and then they believe that that particular robot or human or cat is their mother. The awakening from the psychedelic state is very similar to that impressionable state of a new hatchling.
The mental health crisis in the world and the United States is huge right now, and many people will look for underground practitioners since plant medicine has not been legalized yet.
Another one of the reasons I did the training and the reasons I wanted to learn everything I could about psychedelics, was to make sure that I am a resource for the young people, possibly the most vulnerable of all, other than patients with mental health issues. I have young children, and I don’t think the old way of asking them to stay away from “drugs” will work in this new world we are entering. I think being an informed parent and a resource of information and wisdom will function much better than imposing restrictions and inhibiting the use of substances.
Psychedelics are, as their name says, mind-revealing. They are non-specific amplifiers.
If we are frightened of them, we are frightened of our own depth, and that is something worth examining.
Corina Fratila is an endocrinologist.
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