Psychedelic Myths Experts Wish Would Go Away
What do you think of when you hear the word psychedelics? Do you recall scenes from Yellow Submarine? Or does your mind race toward news stories of people jumping out of buildings thinking they can fly? Whatever you imagine, many people have a varied list of psychedelic myths, as it can be a taboo topic to discuss in general conversation, and resort to considering whatever rumors they have heard as fact.
In reality, many psychedelics have relatively mild effects as opposed to how they are perceived in movies or other media, and when done in a clinically setting, have a low risk of adverse side effects. In fact, many of these drugs can have many beneficial applications when used as a treatment for a variety of ailments such as depression, addiction, and anxiety. However, psychedelics, by definition, do alter one’s mood, thoughts, and perceptions, and therefore need a level of cautious awareness when administered. Most negative effects are a result of reckless/abusive usage and altered decision making with poor preparation.
To better understand to reality of psychedelics and dispel common psychedelic myths, we have reached out to psychedelics experts from around the world to ask their opinions on common misconceptions they hear.
Myth #1: Set an intention and always stick to it
Jessica K. – Eleusinia
One of the myths surrounding psychedelic experiences that needs to be dispelled is the idea that a specific, detailed list of intentions should be created beforehand. While intentions can be helpful in setting the tone for the experience, they should be broad in nature, such as self-exploration or discovering new paths to personal growth. Psychedelic experiences can be unpredictable and chaotic, which can make it difficult to stay committed to specific intentions. The therapeutic effect of psychedelics is driven by the disorganized, novel activity in the brain that encourages the mind to reorganize and form new connections. Therefore, focusing on a laundry list of intentions that may not hold relevance after the experience can be counterproductive. Instead, embracing the unpredictability and letting go of specific expectations can lead to a more transformative experience.— Jessica K., Founder/Director of Eleusinia
Myth #2: Ketamine is just a horse tranquilizer
Sam Mandel – Ketamine Clinics Los Angeles
Myths about psychedelics that I wish would go away are numerous. The average person knows ketamine as a horse or cat tranquilizer, which isn’t exactly a myth, but a narrow definition for such a diverse medicine approved by the FDA for humans in 1970. A real myth is that it’s addictive. Ketamine does not create a physical dependency like alcohol, opioids, or nicotine. While it can be used as a means of escape on the street, so can video games, TV, and mint chocolate chip ice cream (yea, that’s my flavor.) There are many myths about other psychedelics, such as LSD/acid and psilocybin/shrooms. Some say these medicines will fry your brain, ruin your life, make you addicted, make you jump out of windows, and do lots of other nonsense. While high doses or traumatic environments can cause distress to users or cause some to make bad choices, most people have therapeutic, enlightening, or at the very least, pleasant experiences with these medicines. Significantly few people are permanently damaged by their experience, though certain predispositions to mood disorders can trigger mental health crises in rare cases. Some other common myths are that psychedelics will provide enlightenment or are a cure-all. While they are mighty and can help us grow more into our potential as spiritual beings and help treat various physical and mental ailments, they are not magic bullets, nor do they do all the work independently. Active, healthy participation in the journey before, during, and after a psychedelic experience is essential for maximizing the joy, healing, and enlightenment it can provide.— Sam Mandel, Cofounder & CEO of Ketamine Clinics Los Angeles
RELATED: Where is Ketamine Legal?
Myth #3: Beware the ‘bad trip’
Dr. Dan Zimmerman – Acheron Psychiatry
A myth we at Acheron Psychiatry wish would go away is ‘beware the bad trip.’ In our ketamine/KAP practice, we have seen no bad trips, nor do we anticipate ever seeing one. A bad trip is like a particularly ugly unicorn. You would never want to see one, and fortunately you never will! (Assuming you have done your due diligence with appropriate patient selection.) In seriousness, what you can see and what we have seen are bad mindsets. I would highlight the mindset that is not fully committed to treatment and ambivalent about treatment. Unfortunately, this is quite common given the unconscious resistance to treatment and fear of deep change. With that mindset, ketamine treatment may typically have escapist/”touristic” aspects. The good news is that careful preparation work can often mitigate the mindset problem. What you might also see, though not here at Acheron Psychiatry, are bad settings that are ill equipped to do the deep clinical work. We have a mission to help, and would be happy to work with you as your KAP treatment home.— Dan Zimmerman, Co-Founder and Psychiatrist at Acheron Psychiatry
Myth #4: A trip must be ‘positive’ to be transformative
Andrew Tansil – Sayulita Wellness Mushroom Retreat
MYTH: The idea of a “bad trip” is a common myth associated with psychedelic use. Many people believe that all psychedelic experiences are pleasant and enjoyable, and that any negative experiences must be the result of a “bad trip”. However, this is not accurate.
The truth is that psychedelic experiences can be both positive and negative, and both offer a different perspective on the participants inner world. Both lead to a deeper sense of self and the cultivation of a balanced mindset. Similar to life some people have pleasant and transformative experiences with psychedelics, others may experience challenging and difficult experiences. Both stimulate, motivate, and charge one into higher levels of growth.
“It’s not just about the experience, it’s how you use it.”
These difficult experiences, often referred to as “bad trips” can be emotionally intense and uncomfortable. People may experience feelings of anxiety, fear, paranoia, or confusion. They may also have intense and disturbing visual or auditory hallucinations combined with a loss of control or identity.
Many people report that challenging trips can be some of the most transformative and insightful experiences they have had with psychedelics. When navigated with the help of a skilled guide or therapist, challenging trips can lead to profound personal growth and healing.
Challenging experiences with psychedelics are not necessarily the result of the substance itself. The experiences we face are within us and medicine is the channel for communication. Underlying psychological or emotional issues that come to the surface during the experience can be addressed, released, and with integration these experiences promote a stronger will, clarity, and growth. Working with a trained professional to address these issues is a way to accelerate the healing process.
The myth of the “bad trip” is an oversimplification of the complex nature of psychedelic experiences. While challenging experiences can be uncomfortable and distressing, they can be catalyzed into a deeper presence and peace with proper guidance and support.— Andrew Tansil, Sayulita Wellness
Myth #5: The Mexican government vets ibogaine clinics and issues licenses
Aeden Smith-Ahearn – Experience Ibogaine
One myth that continuously bothers me on the internet or from other treatment centers is that there are licensed ibogaine clinics in Mexico. In Mexico, ibogaine is an unscheduled substance, so it’s not legal and it’s also not illegal. This means that the Government and Secretary of Health do not recognize it to be a legitimate medical procedure. Therefore there is no such thing as a licensed ibogaine clinic or a license to administer ibogaine. You can become a licensed rehab, even a licensed clinic (if it’s equipped with an operating room), and you can employ licensed doctors and nurses, but you cannot be a licensed ibogaine clinic. There is no liability insurance for ibogaine. It may be possible to pay somebody off to procure something that looks like a license, but it sure won’t be legitimate if you verify it with the Secretario de Salud. I suppose it’s a good way to confirm who is being honest with you or not.— Aeden Smith-Ahearn, Founder at Experience Ibogaine
Myth #6: LSD makes people jump off buildings
Debra Ferguson – Daytryp Health
LSD: One of the most prevalent myths about LSD is that it makes people jump off of buildings or otherwise engage in reckless and dangerous behavior. However, this is simply not true. While LSD is a powerful psychedelic drug that can cause changes in perception and mood, it does not inherently make people want to harm themselves or others. In fact, research has shown that most people who use LSD do so in safe and controlled environments and have positive experiences. Psychedelic use, including LSD, has been linked to lower rates of mental health disorders and suicide, according to recent studies, which suggests therapeutic benefits for mental health treatment and challenges negative cultural perceptions of psychedelic use.— Debra Ferguson, Contributing Member at Daytryp Health Psychedelic Wellness Center
Myth #7: Psychedelics are always safe
Daniel A. Brenner, M.D. – Cambridge Biotherapies
Psychedelic therapy has gained significant attention in recent years as a potential treatment for mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and addiction. However, there are several myths surrounding psychedelic therapy that experts in the field wish would go away.
One of the most common myths is that psychedelics are a “magic pill” that can cure mental health conditions with just one dose. In reality, psychedelic therapy is a complex process that involves preparation, integration, and ongoing support from a trained therapist.
A common myth is that psychedelic therapy is dangerous and can lead to psychosis or other negative outcomes. However, when used in a controlled and supervised setting with trained professionals, the risk of negative outcomes is low. Some studies have even raised the possibility that psychedelics may be helpful in treating psychosis, although this is still an area of significant controversy.
Some people believe that psychedelic therapy is only for those with severe mental health issues. While psychedelic therapy can be effective for those with severe mental health issues, it can also be beneficial for people who are dealing with less severe mental health issues or simply looking for personal growth.
Another myth is that psychedelics are always safe. While psychedelic therapy is generally considered safe, there are still potential risks involved, such as adverse reactions and long-term psychological effects. It is important to approach psychedelic therapy with caution and under the guidance of a trained professional, especially for those with a family history of psychosis.
Lastly, some people believe that psychedelics can provide immediate enlightenment or spiritual awakening. However, while psychedelic experiences can be profound and life-changing, they are not a guarantee of spiritual enlightenment or a shortcut to personal growth.
Overall, it is important for people to educate themselves on the realities of psychedelic therapy and to consult with trained professionals before pursuing this type of treatment.— Daniel A. Brenner, M.D., Medical Director and CEO of Cambridge Biotherapies
Myth #8: Ketamine is new
Dr. Mark Leeds – The Mood Center
One persistent myth that I am often confronted with is that ketamine infusion therapy is a new and novel treatment. While this belief is understandable, with the renewed interest in psychedelic therapy, IV ketamine treatment is anything but new or novel. Doctors have administered ketamine for PTSD and depression for many years. Ketamine treatment for anxiety, ketamine therapy for pain, ketamine infusion for OCD, and ketamine for fibromyalgia are all therapies that have stood the test of time. The safety and efficacy of ketamine infusion therapy is well established. Within a few years, we may see other psychedelic therapies obtain FDA approval. We welcome these new treatments, as they join ketamine, which has enjoyed over five decades of FDA-approved medical use.— Dr. Mark Leeds, Consulting Physician at The Mood Center
Myth #9: If you’re in recovery, taking psychedelics means you have relapsed
Lexi Loman – Integrative Psychiatry of Oklahoma
There are two main myths I talk with clients about related to psychedelic-assisted therapy.
The first one: You can’t stay sober and do psychedelic-assisted therapy. Or, said another way, psychedelic-assisted therapy can’t work for people who struggle with addiction.
Addiction comes from emotional pain. Psychedelic-assisted therapy is a great tool to heal that pain where other treatments have failed in the past to end the struggle with addiction.— Lexie Loman, Licensed Professional Counselor at Integrative Psychiatry of Oklahoma
Myth #10: Psychedelics are a “silver bullet”
Anthony Townsend – EQNMT
Perhaps the most pervasive and unhelpful myth is that psychedelics reflect a ‘silver bullet’ in mental health. That is to say, that simply by taking a psychedelic, you will heal your mind, and as Humphrey Osmand says, “soar angelic”. At EQNMT we like to say: The magic is not only in the medicine. Psychedelics are powerful medicines which can promote and accelerate deep healing but their effects are only meaningful and lasting when accompanied by behaviour change. For this reason, we recommend that anyone using a psychedelic also embark on a therapeutic journey before, during and after the transcendent experience to ensure that the insights and emotional shifts attained in a psychedelic experience become part of your everyday life. The psychedelic may make you well, but only behaviour change (often through therapy) will keep you well.— Anthony Townsend, Co-Founder of EQNMT
The Last Word About Psychedelic Myths
Although psychedelics have many positive benefits, it’s important to remember that they are not a cure-all that will solve issues on their own. Many issues can still present themselves outside of a clinical atmosphere without proper dosage, context, and administration. It’s critical to be screened by a professional to see if these treatments may be beneficial to you and to avoid any conflicts with other conditions. To determine if treatment is right for you, seek a professional opinion from a reputable treatment center near you.