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Pink Clouds

Understanding Difficult Psychedelic Experiences

Psychedelic substances allow the subconscious-the part of our mind which stores our repressed memories, aspects, fears, and insecurities-to become conscious. The subconscious, sometimes referred to as the shadow, contains all the aspects of the self which society has taught us to hide, reject, or otherwise suppress. Given that the subconscious mind is comprised of the things we have suppressed, because they have been viewed as threatening or undesirable by a given culture or society, it is no wonder that when faced with these parts of ourselves, we may experience fear or challenge.

Various psychedelic substances have been used for thousands of years by different cultures to induce altered state experiences, which has been seen by many as a doorway into personal and collective healing. By seeing that which we have suppressed, we have an opportunity to heal it. When psychedelics are used in a ceremonial or therapeutic setting, difficulty is expected and even welcomed as part of the experience. With certain substances like ayahuasca or peyote, it is commonly understood that facing the fears and inner demons revealed by the medicine is a trademark of the experience. In psychotherapy sessions using MDMA, accessing and processing suppressed memories is the mechanism through which individuals are able heal from trauma.

Becoming conscious of our repressed aspects and memories and integrating them into our awareness is at the core of the psychological and emotional healing process. Psychedelics can catalyze this healing process, which is why they hold so much promise in mental health treatment. In recreational environments, however, this knowledge can often be forgotten and replaced with oft unspoken and misleading beliefs about the psychedelic experience, for instance that it is supposed to be fun, connecting, enjoyable, transcendent, peaceful, or euphoric. It can definitely be these things-and much more.

Because psychedelics are nonspecific amplifiers, the ingestion of these substances can allow us to expand our insight into every possible aspect of the human experience, everything from joy, bliss and love to fear and confusion, and hatred. If the individual under the influence is in a supportive environment free of shame and judgment they are more likely to be able to surrender to whatever the substance is revealing to them. One of the challenges with recreational environments like concerts, festivals, and parties is that these environments can be highly varied and unpredictable. Combined with a psychedelic this can create conditions in which the individual cannot surrender and can begin to resist, causing a spiral of more struggle and challenge. Helping someone having a difficult psychedelic experience means creating a safe environment for the individual to surrender to the experience.

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