Psychedelics May Lead to Fear, Loathing and Addiction

Psychedelics May Lead to Fear, Loathing and Addiction


You want a spiritual experience, so you drive out to Joshua Tree and drop LSD-25 to connect with Mother Earth. Or maybe you fly out to Oaxaca, Mexico to do some ‘shrooms during the largest Dia de los Muertos festival on the planet. If you don’t take too much of the stuff, it’s possible you will feel connected to the universe, your dead ancestors and every person, insect and leaf on the planet.

Or you might get such a great burst of enlightenment you have to take it again and again and again.

Egoic Enlightenment

Derek Beres was one such person. On the metaphysical and esoteric site Big Think, he contemplates whether psychedelics can be addictive. On one hand, many experts say drugs like MDMA, LSD and peyote don’t have the same habit-forming effect on the brain that cocaine, alcohol, nicotine and caffeine do. Supposedly, the stuff might even help addicts and alcoholics get sober or help depressives and anxiety-ridden folks get sane.

But on the question of whether there psychedelic addicts exist, Beres writes, “I would argue that an entire American subculture is proving otherwise, tuning out of real social issues while exploiting their own egoistic self-expansion.”

Beres says he’s used psychedelics over 100 times, and that three-quarters of the episodes were during a period of just 15 months in the 90s. Oh, the 90s…the decade that brought back bell bottoms, tie-dye, macramé vests (which are back in style again), weed, LSD, ‘shrooms and other trends that should have perhaps been left in the 70s.

Instead of having a spiritual experience, Beres says he developed a dependency on the drugs, despite all the evidence that claims this isn’t possible.

Novelty High

Apparently, when you try something new, even if it isn’t a substance, your brain releases dopamine, something that happens when you smoke the first cigarette, shoot-up smack for the first time, or test drive an Audi R8. The brain gets a buzz, and the brain wants to chase that buzz, which is one of the main reasons car salespeople love to twist your arm to do a test drive. This is also true for sex and love, hence the idiotic choices people often make in a new state of infatuation. Called the “novelty bias,” the reward center of the brain lights up with new experiences, and this happens with LSD as much as it happens with blow and a new message from some hot chick or dude on OK Cupid.

“Novelty is what drove me to experimentation,” Beres writes. “What you experience on psychedelics is so unlike everyday reality it becomes a refuge sheltering you from the ‘real’ world. Loneliness disappeared during my intense psychedelic stretch. The problem is that when I wasn’t under their influence, it rushed back.”

Beres cut his use off and now takes psychedelics around once a year, claiming they do offer spiritual benefits, but he doesn’t want to become dependent on them as he was back in the 90s. Unfortunately, he’s also watched his friends grow more and more dependent on psychedelics, refusing to experience life without being high.

Sounds like addiction to me.

Back to Reality

I’ve known enough people who have had positive experiences with psychedelics. In fact,one of my best friends, who happens to be a well-balanced Buddhist—and a non-addict and non-alcoholic—says it helps him connect better to the universe and be a better person. But Mark takes very small doses and only does the stuff occasionally, and it’s quite obvious the guy doesn’t have an “addictive personality.”

Still, when Mark gave his buddy a very small dose of LSD in Palm Springs, thinking it would help ease his friend’s depression, the poor guy suffered from a harrowing trip. He called the cops, convinced Mark was plotting to kill him and spent the following 12 hours screaming, sobbing and throwing up.

Fear and loathing in Palm Springs.

So is it worth dropping acid or smoking peyote to have a “spiritual experience” that might lead to an insatiable hunger for more trips or a nightmarish trip that can ruin your life for 12 hours?

I vote for a Buddhist meditation retreat, a journey to an Indian Ashram, a free introductory yoga class or dousing yourself in holy water instead.

Photo courtesy of HdWallpapersFactory



  1. “I vote for a Buddhist meditation retreat, a journey to an Indian Ashram, a free introductory yoga class or dousing yourself in holy water instead.” Well said!
    A nap works too, expands the mind and I end up writing the same as if I were speaking in tongues; only with clarity and coherence, at least I hope. 🙂

  2. Kieran-Alexis on

    My feeling is that although psychedelics are not addictive [in that the user cannot develop
    a physical dependance], it doesn’t mean that they are not hugely problematic in the sense that

    1. the social scenes that develop around their use are [quite obviously] cultish and not rooted in a healthy view of reality. My apologies if you are currently in one of these scenes and object to this observation.


    2. The use of psychedelics give one a sense that reality is not sufficient in and of itself, and that there is ‘something more’ to be had, and the novelty of the experience is something that can begin to displace actual reality, which may begin to seem boring, and something from which to escape – perhaps as frequently as possible 🙂

    If the true psychological problem behind classic addictions is a behavioral problem of seeking to avoid reality or escape it, then psychedelics are clearly something that are used in this way. The main confusion, if there is one, stems from the blurred line between physical dependency on a substance, and using a substance to avoid reality. These are different issues, but intimately related.

    Disclosure – I have taken quite a huge amount of all-sorts of psychedelics. I no longer see any benefit in them, although they are a lot of fun [unless, of course, they aren’t].

    My sober take [or riddle] on it is this;
    Why would you feel the need to dream a dream inside the dream? [the dream being reality itself, of course.]

  3. Juan Fernandez Ochoa on

    ‘Classic’ psychedelics (DMT, psilocybin, mescaline, LSD, etc.) do not lead to substance dependence or withdrawal. They don’t even seem to cause long-term tolerance, although they do cause tachyphylaxis, which renders almost impossible any attempt at intensive chronic use. Furthermore, psychedelic users tend to exhibit the lowest frequencies of use when compared to other substances, and the frequency further decreases with age (the absolute majority of users actually stops).

    I do not mean to invalidate the life stories of the people you describe, but in no way could they be describe as psychedelic ‘addicts’ and I am afraid your article contributes to the myth of psychedelics as a dependence-forming destructive drug. Truth is psychedelics are consistently placed among the controlled substances with the lowest profiles of harm. Even more, they seem to have great transformative/therapeutic potential, as many recent studies demonstrate.

    I am not trying to say psychedelics have no potential for harm. Surely, some people have struggled with their intense acute psychological effects, for instance. But misrepresenting them does not help inform the public, de-stigmatise users or facilitate research into their clinical applications.


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Tracy Chabala is a freelance writer for many publications including the LA Times, LA Weekly, Smashd, VICE and Salon. She writes mostly about food, technology and culture, in addition to addiction and mental health. She holds a Master's in Professional Writing from USC and is finishing up her novel.