Is it ‘bad’ if more Americans* aspire to be pharmaceutical-free? What—if anything—might this imply about changing attitudes towards pharmaceutical companies and current healthcare options? How might this shape the future of drug use? And what might this say about people who need a daily Rx to survive? Are there observable rifts (in privilege, power, well-being, whatever) between the medicated (prescribed by a doctor) and the self-medicated (exploring alternatives—be them off-label Rx use, unregulated supplements, or psychedelics)?
*~46% of Americans have used one or more prescription drug in the last 30 days (as of May 2019).
Two years before Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar’s death and 20 since Nixon started the so-called “War on Drugs,” I was born in August of 1991 in Medellín, Colombia — known then as one of the most violent cities in the world. It has taken 27 years for me to realize my very first memories are tinted by the life and death of one of the world’s most notorious criminals in the illegal drug trade. And even now, decades since Escobar was shot dead, hope for peace remains a utopian dream for the inhabitants of the paisa capital.
The cocaine market didn’t die when Escobar was killed nor did the drug itself cease to exist. The protagonist changed, demand rose, delivery routes multiplied, victims increased, and the business model adapted to the guerrillas’ open war. Colombian history since the late 1970s follows a series of cartels that fluctuate between control of drug production, circulation, and the next “patron” to dictate the law of the jungle. Continue reading “Fighting a narcocracy”→
Migration as a bioethics issue — not allowing people to migrate physically (from asylum seeking to relocation for better opportunity and simply travel) and mentally (with psychoactive substance or mind-altering experiences) is a bioethics issue. Regulations on migration, travel, and drug use serve some and harm many.
The ethics of psychiatric diagnosis/prescription vs. self-medication — the current psychiatric system also serves some, but hurts many, and moving from the doctor-patient power imbalance to patient empowerment could be a solution. This research would seek information about people who do not receive psychiatric treatment (for reasons from ability to financial), who do not benefit from current pharmaceuticals, and who already know which drugs they want to try — whether from their psychiatrist or from the street. Do you know people who go to the doctor knowing what they’ll be asking for? Isn’t this doctor-approved self-medication? Do you know people given drugs by doctors that they wouldn’t take on their own, that might even make them seem worse? (Thinking strictly re: psychiatric medicine, not for example, cancer treatment.) Is self-medication really the problem authorities should fight or should they provide wider education and harm reduction instead? Reference: Portugal. Will the information age cut out doctors as the middle men between patients and their preferred medicine? This would reference Our Right to Drugs by Thomas Szasz, among others.
It started with a collective itch, absorbing unseen elements. We left and met here. Hopeful the unknown would be better than this. Still craving, switching spaces. The united states of bodies on the ground. Just human. Sure, we can migrate to a new state. We can evolve. But what’s next? Awareness morphing into control. A meditative/medicated existence, far removed from the jolts of the past. Blacking out the rising sun. Muting emotions. Tucking fear into a belt. Veins popping out. A splitting people. They say it doesn’t affect them, but children will singe. Blur this dirty scene, a failed humanity. Closed eyes see reality. Who cares if we can zone out? Focus on the breath. Unthinkable for many. Those who cannot escape. Those before us. Circling around fire. Making sense of sounds. They couldn’t afford to shut it all off. But we think we have the switch.
Our brains are tuned for novelty. And for good reason. It’s adaptive to be responsive to new things in the environment. Changes, threats in the environment. We’re tuned to disregard the familiar or take it for granted, which is indeed what most of us do. One of the things that happens on psychedelics and on cannabis is that the familiar suddenly takes on greater weight. And there’s an appreciation of the familiar. I think a lot of familiar things are profound if looked at in the proper way. The feelings of love I have for people in my family are profound, but I don’t always feel that profundity. Psychedelics change that balance… The line between profundity and banality is a lot finer than we think.”
Just one inhale sent me falling backward into my pillow. A phantom in my mirror sat up from my body, then walked away. My eyelids shut, and I shot into space. Flying through vibrant tunnels of geometric patterns and down paths not unlike Mario Kart 64’s Rainbow Road, I eventually landed on “the other side.” Everything was white and black, simultaneously. I seemed to be standing on firm ground in the clouds, with the agency to navigate. I was in the void. There was no distinction between high and low or here and there. Though I’m not religious, Ganesha — Hindu god of beginnings and “remover of obstacles” — appeared. The elephant figure pulsated in the center of my vision as several arms swayed up and down. I was awestruck, eager to explore. I turned and faced a large audience, a sea of young Asian boys. (Don’t ask why. I know it’s specific.) They were all giving me a thumbs-up, cheering me on. Smiling eyes roared in unison: “Keep doing what you’re doing, Erica. You’re doing the right thing.”
At this point, my roommate opened the door, and the visions evaporated. I told her, “I’m on DMT. Please shut the door.” The room returned to silence. The walls seemed to be morphing and dripping with sheen paint. Then, just as suddenly as I’d blasted off, I made a gentle landing back to sober consciousness. I checked the clock. Only 20 minutes had passed. I remember thinking, “That’s it?” But now, several years later, the psychological benefits of that experience continue to crystalize.
That was it. Just one bong rip of DMT — also known as N,N-dimethyltryptamine, a molecule found nearly everywhere in nature and a powerful hallucinogenic — sent me out of this world. I had no idea it would also send me the precise message I needed to hear as a 20-year-old trying to figure out my life.
Like many young people, I went through a period of feeling uncertain about everything. What to do, how to be. I was depressed, skipping class, avoiding responsibilities. (Smoking pot all day didn’t quite ease the existential anxiety.) To escape this inherent developmental discomfort, I used all sorts of substances: alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, sketchy pressed pills, various pharmaceuticals. But psychedelics were always different. Rather than a diversion from reality, they provided a meaningful and direct confrontation with my inner self and this outer space we find ourselves tucked into.
On larger doses of LSD, I’ve seen divine feminine figures in kaleidoscopic vision. All women in one woman, or me. Yoni, apparently. On psilocybin (four grams, a doozy), I once forgot everything about the world, including myself. Even my name. Rediscovering everything as I returned from the fog renewed my appreciation and awe of existence. When you forget that music exists and hear a song for what feels like the first time, even T-Pain on WiLD 94.9 can bring tears to your eyes. On ketamine, the most mundane information transforms into divine comedy. And on MDMA, I’ve connected more deeply with people I love. Once I even saw green energy sparks coming out of my hands after rubbing them together. I was able to see the unseeable.
Each of these seemingly sacred experiences has brought me closer to what feels like my most “authentic self.” And while the psychedelic experience has historically been written from a male perspective, with an emphasis on ego loss as the big shebang, that recurrent theme has been a bit less profound for me and other women I’ve spoken to about psychedelic visions. Maybe ego loss is less focal to the female psychedelic experience because we’re primary caregivers biologically.Maybe it’s neurochemically and socially easier for us to “lose ourselves” in flow states of caregiving, such that becoming aware of a lack of boundaries between ourselves and the world may be a bit less mind-blowing. Instead, reaching an inner state of pure self-compassion, giving my ego a damn hug for once, and being reintroduced to myself sans judgment has been paramount. Some space to say: It’s okay. You’re okay.
Reflecting on all the substances I’ve taken, DMT stands above and beyond the rest. DMT delivered the words of encouragement I desperately needed as a young woman to “find my way.” Not a degree. Not a boyfriend. Not a grade on a paper. Not a like on Instagram. I needed to know within the deepest part of myself that I was okay; I was enough. A very basic human need that comes more naturally to some than others.
That brief message brought me back home within myself. And over time, it made it easier to ignore self-doubt and distractions from my truest goals, dreams, and desires. The things that make me talk too fast. The things that make me write. The things that make me feel full: love and learning. The things in this world that need some editing and rewriting.
I definitely don’t have it all figured out, but that single experience gave me the reassurance I needed to simply be as I am. To stop trying to embody a personality or mimic a state alien to myself. To stop worrying about what others are thinking and feeling at all times. This is not a story of ego loss, but a story of ego restructuring. A moment of solitude that allowed my mind to better prioritize what matters and what doesn’t. What deserves attention. Especially for women, who may exhaust too much mental energy outside of themselves, constantly thinking about how others are feeling, thinking, and perceiving, this return inward can be especially therapeutic.
People familiar with DMT will often ask, “Did you break through?” And I did. After cosmic travel — whether in a spacecraft or within your own mind — your perspective is bound to shift. Anxiety lifts. Everyday trials and tribulations seem more petty than before. Spiraling thoughts of self-doubt become irrelevant, because, according to the laws of universe, it’s going to be okay. Really, you’re doing just fine. For anyone who grew up programmed to think otherwise — that they’re not good enough, that they should conform like this or dress like that, that they deserve less — a psychedelic experience can help send those negative thoughts out of orbit.DMT politely called bullshit on all that disorienting psychosocial conditioning that surrounded me as a young woman, and then said: Keep going.