Psychedelics: As Effective as Medication and Meditation?

Psychedelics: As Effective as Medication and Meditation?

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This post was originally published on June 16, 2014.

Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the past 10 years, you’ve probably heard the earth-shattering (but awesome) news that meditation is good for you. What you may not have heard, because it wasn’t exactly well-documented until now, is that meditation might actually be as effective as medication in treating psych disorders like depression and anxiety.

Trade Your Zoloft for Zen Not Shrooms

Interestingly, there’s another recent study which found that Psilocybin (the active drug in psychedelic mushrooms) was “effective in treating anxiety and depression in terminal cancer patients. There are now dozens of studies that document how both meditation and psychedelics can treat depression, addiction, anxiety and PTSD.”

Which all leads a Salon writer to gamely ask, “Are psychedelics an alternative to spiritual practices?” Huh. Well, are they? No clue, TBH. I’m admittedly anti-psychedelic when it comes to my own life (partially because duh, I’m sober, and partially for other personal reasons). But I’ve read a fair amount of stuff elucidating how and why psychedelic drugs have helped some seeker sorts to find themselves and explore what they believe about God, life, the universe—and their small role in it.

For his part, though, the Salon writer doesn’t fully seem to embrace the idea of psychedelics replacing meditation and other spiritual practices, noting that, “Rather than freeing the mind from attachment, psychedelics create more” because they are by their nature “an experience, a strange and beautiful one but often elusive. This creates a craving to have the experience again.” That craving to have the experience again and again means not being able to practice Buddhism’s core tenet—basically that “the origin of suffering is the attachment to desire.”

The Search for Enlightenment Continues

Okay, I don’t know which people we’re talking about exactly, but I for one do not ever ever crave having a psychedelic experience ever ever again. That said, I haven’t ever had a legit spiritual awakening of any kind, either; AA didn’t do it for me, and neither has, well, anything else. I constantly tell myself to try meditation because I know it’d be good for me, but my inability to quiet my own mind, even for just five minutes, makes me feel like I’m bad or unsuited for it.

It’s an interesting question, though, and it raises other interesting questions about what precisely constitutes a “spiritual experience,” how much our own personal definitions of a spiritual experience may vary and whether (and when) it’s worth using psychiatric meds to treat mental illness instead of  turning to more “natural” approaches like meditation. But please, while we figure out the answer, don’t pass me the tab of acid.

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2 Comments

  1. Chuck Sigler on

    “Better living through chemistry” has a long history in recovery. Bill W. participated in the 1950s LSD experiments, thinking it may be a “treatment” for alcoholism. He was convinced by other A.A. members to stop. You can read about it in “Pass It On.” Written in the early 1900s, “The Varieties of Religious Experience” by William James, describes a “variety” of ways to get a spiritual high. The VRE is the only book named in Big Book. Frankly, I think psychedelics are a bad idea and kind of like a ponzi scheme, full of great promise and seeming success at the beginning. But sooner or later the whole facade will collapse on you.

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About Author

Laura Barcella is a documentary researcher, author, freelance writer and ghostwriter from Washington, DC. Her writing has also appeared in TIME, Marie Claire, Salon, Esquire, Elle, Refinery29, AlterNet, The Village Voice, Cosmopolitan, The Chicago Sun-Times, Time Out New York, BUST, ELLE Girl, NYLON and CNN.com. Her book credits include Know Your Rights: A Modern Kid's Guide to the American Constitution, Fight Like a Girl: 50 Feminists Who Changed the World, Popular: The Ups and Downs of Online Dating from the Most Popular Girl in New York City, Madonna & Me: Women Writers on the Queen of Pop and The End: 50 Apocalyptic Visions From Pop Culture That You Should Know About…Before It’s Too Late.