Tripping for Knowledge: The Psychedelic Epistemologist

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In this interview for 3:AM Magazine, Chris Letheby argues that even though psychedelics may induce delusions or imaginary phenomena, their use can also lead to accurate knowledge and insights into one’s own mind and consciousness. He also discusses some of the key differences between antidepressant use, which can be dehumanizing, and psychedelic use, which is often transformative.

“I just think that our intuitive conception of how drugs like SSRIs work fits the description of what some thinkers regard as a dehumanising treatment modality. What’s the description? Basically, they re-wire you from the bottom up, and you, as a person, don’t really have anything to do with it. The change in personality or mood is alien—it’s inserted ‘from the outside’ of one’s biography, by the drug, rather than being a meaningful and comprehensible change that one goes through and can incorporate into one’s autobiography. This contrasts starkly with prototypical psychotherapies, be it cognitive-behavioural therapy, Freudian analysis, exposure therapy, or whatever, where there is a sense that the transformation results from learning and insight, and the subject, post-transformation, can tell a plausible story about how and why that particular experience or insight transformed them in the way that it did.

Well, a glance at the literature on psychedelic therapy, and in particular the reports of psychedelic subjects, gives you a picture much more like the second than the first. People are talking about being transformed by meaningful learning experiences, and typically they can tell a story about why that particular experience transformed them in that particular way. Of course, they might be confabulating. But I think it’s plausible that psychedelic therapy does in fact involve something more like the intuitive picture of psychotherapy than like the intuitive picture of pharmacotherapy—explicable transformation by a meaningful conscious experience. A philosophical slogan would be that psychedelic therapy is a personal-level process.”

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5 COMMENTS

  1. this isn’t as profound as self-knowledge, but it would be a good idea for mental health workers to have hallucinogenic experiences in order to grasp the kind of experiences their ill patients are having. The idea isn’t new; when the late Humphry Osmond was superintendent of Weyburn Hospital in Saskatchewan, he used to encourage the hospital’s employees to have an LSD experience for this reason.

  2. What hypocrisy from Mad In America to post this! Prescription psychiatric drugs are bad, but illegal ones are good? LSD is an extremely dangerous drug that has side effects just as severe as prescription psychiatric drugs and is just as capable of causing brain damage. Why would anyone think it would be beneficial for people to take it – just because it is illegal and not controlled by Big Pharma? That makes it harmless, and even good to use? How is LSD or any other illegal mind-altering drug any different in its effects on the brain than prescription psychiatric drugs? I think sometimes people find illegal drugs appealing just because they are forbidden. They want to believe forbidden drugs are wonderful, magical substances that mainstream medicine rejects because the “system” is evil and only allows evil drugs to be prescribed, while banning good drugs. I blame the generation of the sixties with their love of mind-altering drugs and their hatred of the “establishment”. They embraced whatever the establishment hated, including dangerous illegal drugs. Society has been screwed up ever since.
    I know from experience the harm LSD can do to a person. I was given LSD when I was 10 years old and it ruined my life. It made me “mentally ill” and damaged my brain. Thirty-five years later, I still have PTSD, hallucinogen persisting perception disorder, visual snow, other serious neurological problems, and severe mental distress and confusion from the experience. The man who gave it to me had been a straight A student and responsible person, until he drank punch at a college party that had LSD in it. It warped his mind and changed his whole personality. After that experience, he became abusive and wild and a drug addict, abusing multiple drugs. He beat his son and gave his son LSD repeatedly from the time he was a baby. After he kidnapped my friend and I when we were 10 and gave us LSD, he then spent the day raping us. Afterward, he jumped in front of a train.
    I also had a friend years ago who took it as an adult. She decided to try a small dose, just once, out of curiosity. She is now a mental train wreck who can see “demons”, and her doctor says she’ll be hallucinating for the rest of her life. It is not a harmless or beneficial drug. It screws up the brain, causing a chemical imbalance in serotonin and dopamine, and confuses the mind. That confusion is not “enlightenment”. It is insanity. And the effects it has on the brain, mind, and personality are often permanent. And they do not make us better people, just mentally screwed up people.
    Any drug that causes chemical imbalances in the brain is bad, whether prescription or illegal.

      • Sorry, but it does. It caused it in me and other people I know. Why would you think LSD is different from any other psychotropic drug, like anti-psychotics or anti-depressants? They cause brain damage. All psychotropic drugs can cause brain damage. They alter the normal levels of neurotransmitters, an effect that can be permanent, and they can permanently alter and even destroy receptors in the brain, as any other psychotropic drug can. LSD is not “special”. It is just another psychotropic drug, just like prescription psychiatric drugs. The belief that LSD is “magical” and harmless is the real urban legend.

  3. It takes about half an hour in advance to find out whether things will be turn out like your lady friend’s did, using a proper background interview and a Hoffer Osmond Diagnostic (HOD) test, used many years ago to screen Canadian alcoholics for LSD treatments. If you live in a big city, it would be a good idea, yourself, to find a practitioner who regularly uses Vitamin B3 in treating disperceptive states.
    An example. Around 40 years ago, some young chap asked me about taking an HOD test because he was curious about LSD. I agreed, finding he had a very high score (the HOD is a quantitative test). I told him I didn’t think it a good idea because of his score. I can’t remember if I suggested ways to modify his experience. He took the acid, unmodified, whereupon he gobbled down a number of tabs and jumped out a window. I still see him at intervals, and he’s still awed because I told him the bad news in advance.

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