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Are Drugs a Doorway to the Divine?
Some of the world’s most prominent spiritual voices have been open about the influence of perception-altering drugs on their work. But are these drugs necessary to tap into spiritual experiences — and more importantly, are “trips” enabled by the use of hallucinogens worth the risk they present of falling?
A friend and I recently discussed the idea that using hallucinogens could deepen the spiritual experience and enhance the enjoyment of events such as concerts and musical festivals. He said some people look for ways to connect with God that are outside the everyday — and these people perhaps are even wired that way neurologically. I said that even if that was so, the risks of drug use overshadow any potential reward.
Do Drugs Raise Consciousness?
Certain drugs do alter users’ perceptions. According to The National Institute of Drug Abuse “LSD, peyote, psilocybin, and PCP are drugs that cause hallucinations, which are profound distortions in a person’s perception of reality. Under the influence of hallucinogens, people see images, hear sounds, and feel sensations that seem real but are not. Some hallucinogens also produce rapid, intense emotional swings.”
And great minds have been open about the effect these kinds of drugs have had on their work. Academics, authors, artists, and spiritual teachers and leaders such as Ram Dass, Timothy Leary, RabbiZalman Schachter-Shalomi, Alex and Allyson Grey, Aldous Huxley and Carlos Castaneda have all acknowledged that psychedelics were aspects of their sacred paths that led them to some of the revelations about which they have written and taught.
Leary, who died in 1996, explained his draw to hallucinogens. “Like every great religion of the past, we seek to find the divinity within and to express this revelation in a life of glorification and the worship of God. These ancient goals we define in the metaphor of the present — turn on, tune in, drop out.”
Decades later, use of these drugs remains prevalent. “More than 180,000 Americans aged 12 and older reported current (past-month) use of LSD, and 32,000 reported current use of PCP, according to the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health,” says Addiction.com.
No Safe Amount
Although hallucinogens aren’t physically addictive, users can become psychologically dependent on them. And users might neglect daily responsibilities to experience the alluring inner landscapes of a “trip.”
Some people believe these drugs are safe because many of them, such as psilocybin (or “magic”) mushrooms, are naturally grown and harvested. But there’s no safe level of such substances. According to Hallucinogens.com, “Toxicity is a potential danger when magic mushrooms are consumed. While the lethal dose is relatively high, psilocybin can be deadly if enough mushrooms containing the drug are consumed.”
Drug-Free Spiritual Practices
The friend I was debating said I must be more disciplined than others because I could find ways to feel spiritually connected without the aid of substances. I responded that this connection isn’t a matter of discipline, but one of practice. I regularly engage in exercises that help me tap into my spirituality. I
pointed out to my friend that as a marathon runner, he also knows what it’s like to be “in the zone” —without the need for drugs — with the runner’s high phenomenon. My spiritual practices include:
- Spending time in nature
- Practicing yoga
- Immersing myself in water, whether it’s a bath, a pool, a lake or an ocean
- Earthing, or walking barefoot outside
- Expressing gratitude
- Spending time with a beloved partner
- Attending a drug- and alcohol-free yoga rave
Any of these activities can bring about a transcendent state. Combined, they seem to have a cumulativeeffect that often makes me feel “high on life.”
By Edie Weinstein, LSW
Follow Edie on Twitter at @EdieWeinstein1