NOW SERVING Psychedelic Culture

You Have a Constitutional Right to Psychedelics

The problem: we do not suppress books and the ideas they contain; we do suppress psychedelic mindstates and the ideas they contain.

When psychedelics are used in a medical context, it is appropriate to call them “drugs,” but not in non-medical contexts. In this essay we’ll sample their intellectual uses, see how they provide insightful ideas about what it means to be a person, and ways to enrich our understanding of human culture. In this purpose, we’ll simply use the common language noun psychedelics. Censorship is the issue of contention here intellectual censorship. In this chapter, we’ll spot the Singlestate Fallacy as one psychological and intellectual root of this problem, claim a Constitutional right to use psychedelic mindstates, and list some of the ideas which suffer a chilling effect because of our current policies. This chapter does not propose a solution to this situation, but challenges policy makers and ethicists and hopes that it will help them find one. 

Who has the right to rule on what ideas you may and may not consider? Who has the right to regulate how you chose to use your mind? Not the Congress of the United States, not the Drug Enforcement Administration, not the National Institute of Drug Abuse. I contend that you, and I, and everyone else have the legal right to determine the contents of our minds, to select our thinking processes, and to explore and develop our minds as we see fit.  But as appealing as this idea seems on the face of things, that simple answer isn’t the position we find ourselves in.

MULTISTATE THEORY. A helpful Twenty-first Century perspective comes from multistate theory (Roberts 2013, 121-134). 

In addition to our ordinary, awake, default mindbody state, we humans have the ability to achieve and use many mindbody states and their resident abilities.

Using mindapps (psychotechnologies), we can install these states in our minds. Psychedelics are one family of mindapps.

Psychological and bodily processes vary from mindbody state to mindbody state. In this chapter we are paying particular attention to cognitive processes and ideas in psychedelic states.

Given the fact that humans are multistate, to be realistic policy makers and ethicists must consider those states and their respective contents and abilities. In this chapter, we will consider psychedelic instances of this wider idea. Some mindbody states are dangerous to the people who are in them and to others. Some are immensely beneficial. So psychedelic policy quickly becomes complicated, as policy makers try to write policies that maximize benefits and minimize harms. 

Making matters even more complex, psychedelics are certainly important for psychotherapy and are receiving most of current attention for that purpose, but focusing on psychotherapy misses another major importance: psychedelic experiences inform us about what it means to be a person and what human culture is. 

Answering this question helps appreciate this importance:

Which domains do psychedelic fall under?












all of the above

Of course the answer is “all of the above,” and it’s even more complicated than that. In each of these domains, psychedelics can be both useful and destructive depending on who uses them, how skillfully they are used, and even where they are used.  

Set and Setting, Both Personal and Cultural

In trying to understand the tangled and conflicting views toward psychedelics, I find the phrase “set and setting” useful. The phrase “set and setting” goes back at least to 1963 (Leary, Levine & Metzner). From a medical perspective, “set” (what is going on in patients’ minds, mindset) or “setting” (the influence of the location where the patients were when they took the drug) simply doesn’t mater for most medicines. To most medical doctors, when set and setting influenced the drug reaction (i. e, interfered with it), that just proved that psychedelics were unreliable. I find “set and setting” useful not only when we consider the effects on individuals but also on a wider scale as ways to think about the socially established attitudes, policies, and psychedelic constituencies

Social Historical Setting

Why are psychedelics such a problem, more properly, such a quagmire of problems?  It helps to start by identifying several historical points, then identifying today’s elements of controversy. Psychedelics were born into controversy. In the late 1940’s and 1950’s when psychedelics were first being investigated, psychology and the mental health professions were split between varieties of psychoanalysis and behavioral psychology.  The former (largely Freudian but with other varieties contributing) saw the origins of our behavior as developing from childhood relations. From this perspective, rational, realistic thinking occurred only in our normal, awake, conscious mindbody state. In Freudian theory, not only dreams, but all other forms of thinking were flushed down into the Freudian cesspool of fear, lust, and aggression the unconscious. Hypnosis, mediation, yoga, psychedelics and other mindstates resided there too. Psychedelic experiences belonged in this cesspool. 

Behavioral psychology, on the other hand, said that who we are was the product of what behaviors we had been rewarded and punished for. Except for physiological problems such as brain tumors or injuries, the interior function of the human brain was “a black box” as behaviorists called it. It was constant and there was no need and no ability to look “inside.” As stunning as this ignorance seems to us today with our fast growing knowledge of the neurosciences, that was a powerful belief in the mid Twentieth Century. Things that messed-up the black box, were interpreted as similar to brain damage or tumors, causing lesions in the brain. When psychedelics came along, this pigeonhole was waiting for them. 

Along came tranquilizers such as Miltown and amphetamines, “uppers” and “energizers”—“Mother’s Little Helper” as the title of a Rolling Stones song saterized them. Freudians and behaviorists didn’t take kindly to psychoactive drugs. “They didn’t cure underlying problems,” many psychanalysts said, “They masked the symptoms.”  To behaviorists, they mucked up internal processes and interfered with reinforcement and punishment.. Like other psychoactive medicines, psychedelics were tarred with the same brush.  

Another problem arose. In the 1960s and 70s, as new psychoactive medicines began to gain a foothold in spite of resistance to them, another specifically psychedelic problem arose.  In the emerging psychiatric pharmacopeia, each new medicine generally had specific, more or less reliable effects, but not psychedelics. What good was a medicine that had different effects on different people and even different effects with the same person from session to session?  This variability contraindicated psychedelics as a take-home prescription medicine and even as an in-session adjuvant.  Doctors were used to medicines that anyone could take anywhere at anytime with fairly predictable effects. Being unprepared to see set and setting as two powerful co-causes of the drugs, it is no wonder that doctors and researchers found psychedelics confusing, 

The Curse of the Sixties

Added to that, in the 60s and 70s, psychedelics, especially LSD, were associated in the public mind with social turmoil, antiwar demonstrations, black power and civil rights, gays beginning to come out, the ecology movement, women’s equality, hippiedom, weird clothing and music, sexual openness, and anything else people disapproved of. “Why were so many normal, healthy, American youths acting that way?” people asked.  “The Mind Destroying Dangers of LSD!” made good press (Davidson 1967), with lots of graphics for print media and TV. Of course, most American youth in the 60s simply lived normal lives, got jobs, and became ordinary students and citizens. What’s newsworthy about that? Preachers and politicians love to scare people about something then offer to save them from it. Preachers get souls and congregants; politicians get elected. Without well known medical uses but with fears amplified by the news media, many states, then Congress banned psychedelics in the mid-60s, except, officially, for hard to obtain (virtually impossible) research. Even 30 years later, they continued to tighten the vice. The Office of National Drug Control Policy Reauthorization Act of 1998 stated in part: [clip] 

(12) shall ensure that no Federal funds appropriated to the Office of National Drug Control Policy shall be expended for any study or contract relating to the legalization (for a medical use or any other use) of a substance listed in schedule I of [the Controlled Substances Act] and take such actions as necessary to oppose any attempt to legalize the use of a substance (in any form) that – (A) is listed in schedule I of section 812 of this title; and … [clip]

Psychedelics, marijuana, and heroin are among the Schedule I drugs. Congress, in its wisdom, voted for ignorance. Furthermore, the effects of psychedelics are so different from other psychoactive drugs, that applying the same laws and policies to them qualifies as more ignorance but blended with foolishness. 

Ironically coming from a psychoanalytic tradition that had previously offhandedly-dismissed psychoactive drugs, some Freudianly trained psychoanalysts such as Stanislav Grof discovered how to use LSD as an adjunct to depth psychotherapy (Grof 1975, 1980).  It opened patients’ psychological set (including repressed traumas) as a way to explore both their conscious minds and most especially their unconscious minds. Reframing psychedelics as amplifiers of subjective experience (a sort of microscope for viewing the mind), Grof and others used them to help patients recall traumatic events and treat their disfunction’s through psychedelic therapies. In other cases overpowering mystical experiences showed therapeutic results. Sessa’s chapters in this book detail this advance. But by then, news media and drug education programs had solidified politically based positions and hardened social attitudes. 

In contrast to their mid-Twentieth Century forebears, ironically, by the end of the Twentieth Century, most new psychiatrists had begun to use psychoactive drugs as the treatments of choice, turning around the historically hostile psychiatric profession. As legal psychoactive drugs became the psychiatric norm, “talking cures” and extended psychotherapeutic interactions with professionals, had become professionally déclassé, so day-long psychedelic sessions faced an unlevel professional field too. 

So that leaves us now with professional assumptions and lingering social-political policies that are derived from the attitudes of more than a generation ago. In the Twenty-first Century, however, research is again opening up as the chapters by Sessa, Goldsmith, Fadiman, and others in this book demonstrate. But these contrasting perspectives are aggravated by contradictory opinions about nearly all aspects of psychedelics., and their intellectual contributions are almost unknown outside the psychedelic community. 

Today’s Constituents, Constraints, and Conflicts

Furthermore, what makes a rational psychedelics policy so difficult is that contradictory facts and informed opinions may both be true for different people, at different times, under different circumstances. By magnifying set-and-setting, psychedelics’ may have opposite effects in different situations for different people. Depending on those particulars, informed and even contrasting judgments may both be true some of the time. Here and throughout this essay, such qualifiers as may, some, many, sometimes, often, on occasion, depending on circumstances and similar words and phrases are not mere weasel words; they express the unfortunate, major, realistic difficulty in formulating a rational psychedelics policy—the variable, confusing, and even contradictory effects of set and setting. Depending on the circumstances, opposites may be true sometimes.

Adding even more to the confusion, psychedelics have culture-wide uses. Legal and illegal, therapeutic or non-therapeutic; meanwhile, they influence all the topics that appeared as choices in the “Which topic” question above. Here we’ll survey some psychedelic informed conflicts about how we see: mind, health, religion, science, law, the arts, humanities, and business. Then we’ll tackle some policy questions they raise. Is it possible to formulate policies that will cover this quagmire of diverse situations, varied constituencies, individual differences, disciplinary paradigms, and practical uses?

A Deep Core of the Problem—Singlestate or Multistate?

Like the first domino in a standing line, when our idea of what it means to have a mind falls over, everything down the line changes.  What it means to be a person, what we can do, what we can learn, what we expect of others, what society and culture are—all these may change, and for some (even many) people, psychedelics were the head domino. Historically, for most people most of the time, the first domino of the mind consists of our ordinary, default mindbody state (sometimes called “state of consciousness”) plus sleeping and dreaming. In this “singlestate” view of our minds, our ordinary default states reigns with unquestioned privilege.  

A psychedelic domino can replace the head domino and did for many people. For millions of others, hypnosis, mediation, neurofeedback, martial arts, yoga, dream work, breathing techniques, contemplative prayer, chanting, and similar mindbody psychotechnologies (“mindapps”) became lead dominos. Although being done mostly for medical and psychotherapeutic treatments, advances in the neurosciences may lead to whole new sources of mindapps as described in the chapter “Mindapps and the Neurosingularity” below. Psychedelics are so powerful that for many of the 26 million experienced people in the U.S. (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration 2010) the singlestate view of the mind looked naïve. Millions of others with experiences with other mindapps agreed. They all realized there was more to their minds than the simple default states. 

Multistate Is the New Normal.

People are curious about their minds, they like to explore them. They enjoy a variety of mindbody states, and many states contain useful skills, others entertaining perspectives, still others new ideas and insights. This chapter looks largely at the last. In their daily lives if not consciously, large parts of the public are rejecting the Singlestate Fallacy, the erroneous assumption that all worthwhile abilities reside in our ordinary, default mindbody state. An incomplete view of the human mind is bound to produce unrealistic policy, and the Singlestate Fallacy is at the deep core of current drug policy. 

New psychotechnologies (mindapps) both drug and nondrug are being invented steadily. Worldwide trade imports and exports them as well as products. As the world culture becomes increasingly multistate, singlestate policy will occupy a place of honor between the Flat Earth Exhibit and the Piltdown Man in the Museum of Forgotten Ideas. 

Particularly with regard to the human mind, psychedelics raise the question, “Can our minds contain worthwhile cognitive processes in mindbody states other than our ordinary, default mindbody state?” The answer is a resounding “yes” (Roberts 2013, 2015). Just as we can install apps in electronic devices to extend their abilities, we can install mindapps to extend our minds’ abilities. Psychedelics are one group of mindapps, and in this chapter we’ll look at some ways they can with the right set and setting extend our cognitive abilities. From a multistate perspective, the fullest human development would have to include accessing useful mindbody states and discovering their useful abilities. This chapter illustrates those discoveries with psychedelic additions to the house of intellect, “Intelligence is the native ability of the creature to achieve its ends by varying the use of its powers,” (Barzun 1961, 5).  The varying powers reside in other mindbody states.  

Leaving singlestate theory behind, our philosophy of mind needs to expand to include the full range of mindbody states, their resident abilities, and psychedelics and other mindapps as ways to access them (Lemmens, Stokkink et al 2015). Likewise, public policy needs to accommodate the full multistate range of our minds and ways to orchestrate our society’s approach to these possibilities. Multistate theory intends multistate policy. 

Health—Cure and/or Curse?

As you might expect the and/or in the heading above is the operative word. In addition to the dose, the cures or curses depend on who is administering psychedelics, for what purpose, the mindset of the person taking it, and the situation. Historically psychotherapy was the commonest psychedelic topic, and today it is the overwhelming  topic of discussion. Several chapters in this book (e.g., Sessa) and many other books have summarized the psychotherapeutic angles (Winkelman & Roberts 2007, Grinspoon & Bakalar 1979). 

The position that psychedelics are primarily harmful is characterized by Federal agencies particularly the politically based Drug Enforcement Agency, part of the Department of Justice. In contrast to the DEA’s claims, a thorough survey of reports on adverse reactions, Strassman (1984) found that almost all incidents occurred from self-doses of unknown strength, questionable content and possible contamination, by people who were unprepared and with likely at-risk sets, and commonly in dubious, stress-producing settings. In a very real sense, these “casualties” result from our current policies that prohibit legal screening, preparation, session guidance, and post-session integration except under strict research protocols. One also cannot know the purity and strength. Bioethicists would probably have some cogent remarks about policies that encourage harm. 

The National Institute of Drug Abuse is part of the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services but has historically confused illegality with abuse as in “vulnerability for abusing marijuana, sedatives, stimulants, heroin, and psychedelics” (National Institute of Drug Abuse 2000). Possibly noting a better informed policy shift, in recent years, NIDA and the Food and Drug Administration have allowed psychedelic research to resume provided it meets high scientific and medical standards. 

The news media’s bias for scary drug stories from the 1950s through the 1990s has switched to a more balanced view too with more differentiated attention to differences among psychoactive drugs and an awareness that used by skilled professionals some of them have promising psychotherapeutic uses. Most noticeably, this changed attitude showed up in 2006 news reports of psilocybin research at the Johns Hopkins Medical School’s Behavioral Pharmacology Research Unit (Griffiths et al 2006). Over 300 print articles as well as TV and radio news reported on the research, and follow-on research has been covered too (Council on Spiritual Practices 2014). 

The news media’s coverage of the Johns Hopkins psilocybin studies illustrates what may be a more sophisticated awareness about psychedelics’ implications not only for medicine, but also for wider cultural issues.  As the title of the 2006 article shows, “Psilocybin Can Occasion Mystical-type Experiences Having Substantial and Sustained Personal Meaning and Spiritual Significance,” the philosophical topic of meaningfulness and the religious topic of spirituality are part of the psychedelic story. Even though most current thinking about psychedelic policy has to do with the health-medicine-psychotherapy complex and it should these sightings of psychedelics’ cultural uses should alert policy makers to widen the scope of their interests. 

ReligionTranscendence Trumps Text

In 2011 the Oxford English Dictionary defined entheogen, “The term is used for psychedelics that are intentionally used spiritually, that is, they generate (engen) the experience of god (theo) within.” In a very real sense, today’s Entheogenic Reformation extends the Protestant Reformation a giant step (Ellens 2014, Roberts 2012). In the former reformation, Protestants claimed they needed the Catholic Church less (or even not at all) because the Bible permitted them direct access to the word of God instead of a church that claimed to be the bridge to God. In the today’s reformation, Entheogenists claim that their sacraments give direct access to the experience of sacredness (sometimes interpreted as God) instead of the word of God in print. 

This raises policy questions at every level:

Personal. Do I adjust my beliefs and activities to include entheogens? If so, how?

Church. Is the Bible, or other preferred religious text, demoted? Should creeds and observances be changed? Are Entheogenists heretics or prophets? Are schisms pending?

Law. To what extent will the courts and legislators extend the Freedom of Religion to experience-based religions beyond the current text based ones?

Entheogenists today, like their reformist forbears, face similar persecution, but thankfully not so cruel. I haven’t heard of the Drug War burning peyoteists at the stake, torturing ayahuasceros with medieval devices, or burning down the houses of LSD entheogenists. Instead, we jail them with cruelly long sentences, seize their property, make them ineligible for governmental benefits, fire some and refuse employment to others, refuse to admit evidence they might give at their trials, expel them from school, deny voting rights, and much more.  How much has to happen for this to this qualify as religious persecution? 

This clearly is not to say that everyone claims entheogenic use is being honest. How can policy makers and the courts discriminate when use is authentically spiritual and when people are just using religion as a shield? Is group membership a criterion? Judaism started with Abraham and Sara, Christianity with 13 people. Are sacred texts evidence? One point of  the Entheogenic Reformation is to surpass the need for texts. Weekly or other periodic meetings and services, clergy, places of worship, and standard rituals?  These do appear in some entheogenic instances, but they seem to be expressions of their social settings and the cultures they are imbedded in rather than necessary formalizations of worship. For many Entheogenists, the path to God (or to sacred experience) is through the depths of one’s mind: from this point of view, rituals, beliefs, ethics, and organizations are derived from primary spiritual experiences. They are secondary sideshows but not necessary (Roberts 2013, 55-79). Can policy makers design a policy that doesn’t look at ritual, beliefs, ethics, and organizations, or by reframing policy into them into an entheogenic context? Events in Brazil point to a traditional solution.

In Brazil the ayahuasca churches are moving toward standard institutional structures and activities. Watching the growth of ayahuasca-based groups in South America and agreements between the União do Vegetal and the U. S. Drug Enforcement Administration, international ayahuasca scholar Beatriz Labate spots an “institutionalization project”.  This includes bureaucratization of records, administrative organizations, and establishing leadership roles. Among other manifestations, are forming a canon of spiritual processes, codification of lyrics and melodies, the regulation of  cultivating, obtaining, and cooking the sacramental tea. The Amazonian UDV, she reports, “is creating a school that will teach courses to its members on growing and handling the species that constitute ayahuasca; the school will supply written curriculum and offer diplomas at completion” (2012). As her subtitle hints, “The UDV–DEA Agreement and the Limits of Freedom of Religion,” when the substance of religion switches from beliefs to experiences, from groups to individuals, from texts to transcendence where does freedom of religion enter? 

Policy makers recognize and governments understand institutional structures, and they provide an established path for recognizing existing churches, but will requiring institutionalization distract from each person’s following his or her individual inner path through their own minds to God?  Will it even interfere with this process? Are there regulators and lawmakers who are experienced enough with entheogens to make informed freedom-of-religion decisions for the benefit of both church members and the general public?  I don’t know of any. 

The Psychedelic Life of the Mind

We move now to the main intellectual claims of this chapter. 

Psychedelics provide additional skillful ways of thinking, but current policy outlaws them. 

Psychedelic experiences provide insights into human nature and culture. 

Psychedelic experiences make some ideas more credible and others less so, but current policy illegalizes the best evidence (direct personal experience). As a result, these ideas suffer a chilling effect, and the world of ideas is impoverished. 

Obviously, psychedelics provide objects to study, experiences to analyze, and topics to investigate. There is nothing really new here worthwhile but ordinary-state scholarship. From The Pharmacology of LSD (Hintzen & Passie 2010) to Are You Experienced? How Psychedelic Consciousness Transformed Modern Art  (Johnson 2011) scholars are using the standard scholarly approaches. Other than some little policy adjustments in disciplinary scope, editors’ open mindedness, and in the attitudes of singlestate colleagues, there’s no really little change from current practices here. I want to suggest a couple of big ones.

MULTISTATE THINKING. When artists, academics, professionals, and business people think about their special topics and try to solve problems, they typically use our ordinary, default mindbody state and its cognitive processes. This state and its resident thinking processes have probably evolved for very good reasons, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other useful cognitive processes in other mindbody states. Reporting on practical problem solving, Fadiman summarized both anecdotal reports and an experimental study (2011). These included a Nobel Prize, possibly two, thanks to LSD, and workable solutions to 44 professional and business problems thanks to mescaline. 

This impresses me as the most productive lead in psychedelic research and the one least developed. Psychedelic thinking is outside-the-box thinking. Might artists, business people, and academics learn to use psychedelic methods of problem solving? In universities they could become part of graduate training in conceptual research methods, allowing graduate students to develop fresh perspectives on their fields. Among other things, graduate students might be asked to design consilience-friendly projects (see mindapps chapter below).

Research institutes, policy centers, businesses organizations, and the non-profit sector need some sort of place to work psychedelically on their problems. Professional organizations, consortia of universities, or even a private business could develop centers to offer this as a professional development service (Roberts 2013, 193-206). Religious and artistic groups should adapt this approach to fit their members and interests. 

Rather than forcing individuals to try this practice on their own and increasing risk as current policy does and to maximize set and setting, psychedelic policy needs to allow, even encourage, the development of safe places and productive procedures to benefit from this path of innovative problem solving. For best results, such centers should probably be embedded in dedicated centers that will provide professional screening, preparation, guidance, and integration. 

INVENTING PARADIGMS. Singlestate psychology’s assumptions change in multistate psychology. An explicit example of this comes from Benny Shanon’s work with ayahuasca (2002), and this leads me to wonder whether he may have stumbled onto a method for systematically inventing new paradigms. A cognitive psychologist from Israel, he ran across ayahuasca while on a vacation in Brazil and became intrigued with how cognition changed under its influence. Ordinary, singlestate cognitive studies didn’t fit his own experiences nor those of the many South Americans, North Americans, and Europeans he interviewed. He identified eleven experiences that point to parameters that singlestate cognitive  studies miss (2002, 198-206). 

• Agenthood—experiencing thoughts as not being one’s own 

• Personal identity—personal identification with whatever one is looking at, a sense of unity with the other 

• Unity—being oneself at the same time as being someone or something else 

• Boundaries—erasing the boundary between inner and outer reality 

• Individuation—self-transcendence but with consciousness still maintained 

• Calibration—change in perceptions of one’s size, weight, posture, and so on 

• Locus of consciousness—consciousness located outside one’s physical body 

• Time—variations in time, including its speed or even feelings of eternity 

• Self-consciousness—a “residue” of the normal self after other facets of consciousness are completely altered  

• Intentionality—no object to which thought is being directed and no content entertained by the mind, often leading to a sense of “the Void” or “pure consciousness” 

• Connectedness, knowledge, and the conferral of reality—a noetic feeling that one is privy to true knowledge

My point is not that these are either insights or delusions. Taken together, these are some of the building blocks for extending the paradigm in cognitive psychology and the philosophy of mind to become multistate. 

More than that, is this a clue to new, wider intellectual technique?  What may be important here are not the particulars in the list above that Shanon discovered, but that he may have stumbled onto a method for constructing new paradigms that may be useful across academia and widely in society. When using psychedelics’ cognitive processes, can other researchers spot anomalies in their fields too? Will these insights help them delineate some otherwise unacknowledged assumptions of their fields?  Make observations they wouldn’t in their default states? Even formulate new paradigms? Certainly, some of what seems at the time to be insightful discoveries, will appear silly from the calmness of the next day’s default rationality, but not all.  

CONSCIOUSNESS. How does brain activity produce subjective awareness? Where do thoughts come from? Is consciousness a process of emergence, a combination of things that produces characterizes that none of the individual component possess? Is it a mere epiphenomenal sideshow from our biology?  Psychedelic and other mindapps certainly don’t answer this puzzle complex, but they may provide clues. A rule in science is that a broad sample of the relevant information provides a better source of information than a narrow sample. Mindapps broaden the sample. They provide experimental techniques in which they are inputs and forms of consciousness are the outputs. Even the I of subjective awareness can become an experimental variable, notably in transpersonal states (Fadiman this book, Friedman & Hartelius 2013). By producing additional instances of consciousness whatever it is under known, experimentally controlled conditions, mindapps can provide additional samples to learn from.   

CONSILIENCE and MIND DESIGN. These are covered below in the chapter “Mindapps and the Neurosingularity Project”. 

At the very least, when we experience different mindapps, psychedelic and non-psychedelic, they help us realize that our default home-state is an app too, and its theories, ideas, and observations are expressions of that home-state app. Gaining perspective on oneself and on one’s world is a rich gift. A wise psychedelic policy will encourage it. 

Humanities It’s a Perinatal World

What goes for developing new academic thinking skills in the section just above goes for specific ideas too. We’ll take the humanities as an example because the interest in literature, philosophy, languages, and their kin stretch far beyond academia into our general culture. There are particular ways that psychedelic-derived ideas are enriching our culture. As new models of our mind come along, each offers its ideas as ways to understand our culture. 

The richest psychedelic model that I know of is Stanislav Grof’s four-layer view of our minds (Grof 1975) and especially its perinatal level. My reason for mentioning this in a book about policy is not to summarize the model or to portray its psychotherapeutic value but to point out that this theory is culturally rich (Roberts 2013). In my opinion, it is being neglected because of our cultural bias against of its psychedelic origin. Official policy unintentionally promotes this bias. 

Coming from a Freudian tradition, Grof’s theory presents a four-level theory of the human mind: 1) abstract and aesthetic, 2) biographical, 3) perinatal, and 4) transpersonal. Grof’s perinatal theory illustrates that psychedelic-derived observations enriche our idea of our minds and how the human mind produces cultural artifacts and activities. In skeleton form the perinatal level contains four stages that parallel birth:

BPM = basic perinatal matrix, a complex of emotions and physical experiences

BPM I = womb experiences, usually good

BPM II = being trapped with contractions but with the cervix closed

BPM III = struggle through the birth canal

BPM IV = emergence

Scholars from a variety of fields have found Grof’s perinatal ideas fruitful.

HISTORY AND THE RHETORIC OF WAR.  Referring to the earlier work of psychohistorian de Mause (1975), in 1977 Grof demonstrated that political and military leaders use perinatal imagery to whip up their people into warlike moods. From Alexander the Great to Hitler, perinatal imagery has reached deep into people’s minds by stirring up unconscious memories of their perinatal development. In Hitler, we see the BPM I of an imaginary past golden age of the Germanic peoples. Loosing WW I, colonies and land lost, and the economic disaster of the depression activate BPM II feelings of constriction and its concomitant desire for more room (Lebensraum), and, of course, the way out of BPM II is the fighting, struggle, and war of BPM III in order to get to the birth of the BPM IV of the glorious 1000-year Reich. Ryan (2004) spotted perinatal elements in the Gettysburg Address, and Churchill used them too. Because the feelings that produce these images come from the deep unconscious, people who use them may do so completely unaware.  They just feel right.  

PHILOSOPHY. In “Sartre’s Rite of Passage,” Thomas Riedlinger (1982) analyzes Sartre’s mescaline experience as unresolved BPM II, which flavored his philosophy thereafter.  A “cardboard world” of meaningless suffering, a sense of being trapped, a “no-exit hell”—these catch BPM II emotions and ideas. In this book Stokkink’s chapter describes Foucault’s links to psychedelics. He and coeditors are preparing a broader view of psychedelics’ implications for philosophy beyond perinatal views (Lemmens et al 2015). Locating Grof’s work within The Passion of the Western Mind (1993), Tarnas wrote, “… while this perinatal area constituted the critical threshold for the therapeutic transformation, it also proved to be the pivotal area for major philosophical and intellectual issues” (428).

ART CRITICISM.  Grof points to H. R. Geiger as a master of BPM II (2013). LSD Psychotherapy (Grof 1980) presents numerous illustrations by Grof and his patients. A particularly powerful series of BPM drawings that documents her inner journey is by Sherana Frances (2001). There are numerous books on psychedelics’ influence on art particularly poster art, but they are not perinatal in their interpretations. 

MYTHOLOGY. After he received an early manuscript of Grof’s Realms, Joseph Campbell, author of The Hero with a Thousand Faces, wrote, “…I have found so much of my thinking about mythic forms freshly illuminated …”   (1972, 258). Ruck et al, trace the origins of early Greek myths to psychoactive plants (2001).

RELIGION. In The Forgotten Truth: The Primordial Tradition, (1977) Huston Smith recommends Grof’s clinical research for its view of  “what the mind is.” He wrote “…judged both by quantity of data encompassed and by the explanatory power of the hypotheses that make sense of this data, it is the most formidable evidence the psychedelics have thus far produced” (156). Psychedelics help uncover perinatal level springs that flow into multiple streams of social life. In this quotation, we see psychology, philosophy, politics, religion, and science flavored by perinatal experiences (Grof 1975):

…independent of the individual’s  cultural and religious background. In my experience everyone who has reached thee levels develops convincing insights into the utmost relevance of the spiritual dimensions in the universal scheme of things. Even hard-core materialists, positively oriented scientists and skeptics and cynics, and uncompromising atheists and intellectual crusaders such as Marxist philosophers suddenly became interested in a spiritual search after they confronted these [perinatal] levels in themselves. (97-98)

This is also a clear instance of an idea humans can develop spiritual interests that gains credibility via psychedelic experience. 

CINE CRITICISM.  Movies, novels, and TV shows frequently express Grof’s wider four-level theory and its perinatal level, often dwelling on scenes that activate perinatal feelings, especially the struggles of BPM III.  I’ve found that these ideas shed light on Brainstorm (1986), Snow White (2006) and Pink Floyd: The Wall (2013).  Kackar and I analyzed Fight Club: as its title suggests, a very BPM III movie. The same might be done for literary criticism. 

These examples provide proof of concept that psychedelics have enriched the humanities. The point here, although true, is not only that psychedelics have generated intriguing ideas and people would like to follow up on them. The point is that current policy both explicitly expressed in laws about psychedelics and implicitly unspoken in academic fear, intellectual caution, and public vogue combine to produce a chilling effect on these ideas and this method on inquiry. Where psychedelics are concerned, the supposedly free and open marketplace of ideas is neither free nor open. But it could be. 

A Constitutional Right to Psychedelics

Well! Is this a crazy enough idea? It’s quite logical if you consider a purpose behind the Bill of Rights. Why are the Freedom of the Press, Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Religion, and Freedom to Assemble parts of the Bill of Rights and not just ordinary laws? They certainly are nice to have. Couldn’t they simply have been granted by law? To answer this, it helps to recognize that the U. S. Constitution is a sort of official rule book for the Federal government. The “Official Baseball Rules” states “This code of rules governs the playing of baseball games by professional teams of Major League Baseball … . “ The Constitution is the code of rules of how to run the U. S. Government, so to be part of the Constitution, these rights must be important for running the country, not just good things to have.

Why?  In addition to being valuable on their own, why are these rights necessary for running the government?  For a democracy to work, citizens have to be able to consider laws and ideas, discuss them openly with others, argue for and against them, supply evidence and opinions, and evaluate them using ethical, religious, economic, social justice, and other standards. That is, for a democracy to function, there must be a free and open marketplace of ideas. When the Bill of Rights was passed, these freedoms where the ways for citizens to consider ideas: that’s why the Constitutional guarantees them.  A democracy’s health depends on the spread of ideas; the freedoms of speech, press, religion, and assembly spread ideas, so they are part of our official rulebook.  

It is a recognized historical principle that Constitutional freedoms extend beyond the limitations of their original times. Freedom of the Press applies to news media that couldn’t even be dreamed of on Dec. 15, 1791, when The Bill was ratified. Who knows how many new American and imported churches are protected by the Freedom of Religion? New groups organize and assemble to discuss and promote ideas even via the Internet. The Right to Bear Arms now includes more than the right to carry the muskets and pirate-type pistols of the late eighteenth century. Thanks to these extended freedoms, ideas, facts, and opinions that were unknown to the founders are commonplace today, and the free and open marketplace of ideas is an ideal we still strive for. In his introduction to The Marketplace of Ideas, Menand succinctly presents this ideal and links it to democracy (2010, 13-14):

As a society, Americans are committed to the principle that the production of knowledge should be uninhibited and access to it should be universal. This is the democratic ideal. We think that where knowledge is concerned, more is always better. We don’t believe that there are things that we would rather not know, or things that only some should know just as we don’t believe that there are points of view that should not be expressed, or citizens who are too wrongheaded to vote.

This book documents psychedelics as a source of intellectual knowledge and cognitive processes. Of course, they also provide psychotherapeutically valuable knowledge (Grof 1975, 1980, Winkelman & Roberts 2007), but that is for other chapters. If we apply Menand’s standards, then current psychedelic drug policy is anti-American, anti-democratic, and anti-knowledge. Will policy experts figure out a way to broaden Menand’s ideal to include psychedelic ideas and thinking processes? 

Just as Constitutional protections extend to new kinds of news media, churches, groups, communication, and products and services, they should also extend to new ideas, to ways to produce them, to their open dissemination, and to evidence for and against both new and existing ideas. Certainly, these extensions meet the original intent of the founders as much as TV and the Mormon Church. In addition to ideas, psychedelics provide additional thinking processes that reside their mindbody states. Just as print, speech, religion, and assembly carried ideas in the Eighteenth Century, psychedelics carry them today in the Twenty-first. The blanket prohibition of psychedelics censors the free flow of ideas and restricts thinking processes, and for these reasons is unconstitutional.  

Under the influence of the Enlightenment, when eighteenth century thinkers recognized that ideas were spread verbally by press, speech, religion, and assembly,  their account was based on what we now recognize as a singlestate assumption of how our minds work. Better informed now, we recognize that additional valuable cognitive abilities reside in other mindbody states. New ideas reside in these states too, so do support for some of our ordinary state’s ideas and challenges to others. 

Reopening the Psychedelic Stand in Free Marketplace of Ideas

This book and others like it present some ideas stifled by current drug policy. Because the evidence about these ideas comes from psychedelic experiences, the best evidence requires that some ways hopefully safe ones be provided so that these  experiences can produce their evidence. Thanks to advances in psychedelic research techniques and strengthened clinical skills under professional care, safety although not 100% certain is highly assured (Fadiman 2011, Johnson et al 2008, Sessa this book, Strassman 1984, 1995).  A four step procedure is widely recognized: 1) screening, 2) preparation, 3) guidance during the session, and 4) integration afterwards. For current research and clinical treatment, these look optimal, but within them lie complex policy issues that we will take up after identifying some of the common stifled ideas. 

Ideas Threatened by Chilling Effects

In addition to the humanities’ topics above, the topics in the list below all deserve free and open discussion including access to complete and in many cases the best evidence about them, but current formal policy and social convention often disparage the information by dismissing psychedelics as providing a valid source of information. It is time to recognize that these restricting attitudes violate individual intellectual integrity, disregard personal conscience, weaken academic inquiry, undermine civil rights, block the free flow of ideas, and violate Constitutional freedoms. As the chapters in this book and other books show, other ideas that psychedelic shine light on are stifled too. Psychedelic scholarship and science are slowly enriching the fields of inquiry in this list, but for the good of humanity, the speed needs to increase.Clearly, these samples only illustrate the existing body of psychedelic work, and I apologize if I have omitted your favorites

Implying that the proponents of psychedelic research are simply old, misguided, leftover hippies with addled brains has almost disappeared from informed circles, but a faded ghost still haunts the public mind and the halls of Congress. The evidence is exactly the opposite. The authors below and the ones in this book and similar books are intelligent, highly educated, career scientists and scholars, medical doctors and clergy, professors and artists who have sustained their work in professionally hostile environments, under social disapproval, with almost no financial support, shunning by colleagues, rejection by editors, in spite of stress and other personal costs. Their enduring dedication often lifelong expresses their informed professional judgments: psychedelics’ effects are worthy of scrutiny, psychedelic research methods are valuable for insightful scholarship and scientific inquiry, they deserve a place in academia. People who form public opinion such as news media and educators, people who form policies such as legislators and regulators damage the public good when they ignore these best-informed citizens. 

Communiqués from the Psychedelic Intellectual Frontier

It’s a credible assumption that people’s experiences influence their ideas, and this holds no less for psychedelically experienced people. Psychedelics have something to say about:


Review of the literature (Grinspoon & Bakalar 1979)

Current news: (Erowid 


Psychedelic qualifying as genuine (Hood 2006) 

Central role in religion (Hood 1995)   

Prosocial effects (Miller & C’ de Baca 2001)

Immune system booster (Roberts 2013)


Antidote to greed and power (Miller & C’deBaca 2001)

Altruism (Roberts 2013, 48-51)

Intercultural understanding (Harner 1973)

Open-mindedness (MacLean 2011)


LSD-derived map OF mind (Grof 1975)

Archetypes (Richards 2002)

Birth memories (Riedlinger & Riedlinger 1986)

Role in transpersonal psychology (Roberts & Winkelman 2013)

Mindbody theory (Roberts 2013)

Mindapps (Roberts this book)

Future of psychology (Grof 2000)


Enriching curriculum of religious studies (Roberts 2014)

Origins of religion, (Wasson, Kramrisch et al, 1986) 

Hebrew Bible (Shanon 2002)

Internet resource ( 

Increased belief in god and/or increased interest in spirituality (Griffiths et al 2006)

Understanding religious studies (Vaughan 1983)

Personal meaningfulness and spiritual significance (Griffiths et al 2006, 2008)

As sacred path (Ellens 2014)

Empirical metaphysics (Smith 2000)

Transition from a text-based religion to experience-based religion (Roberts 2014)


 Formation of Western civilization (Hillman 2008)

Ancient Greece and the Near East (Ruck et al 2001)

Western history, epidemics, witchcraft persecution (Matossian 1989)

Salem witchcraft trials (Carporael 1976) 

Oracle at Delphi (Hale 2003)

Archeology (Rudgley 1993)


Intensified sensations leading to aesthetic appreciation (Huxley 1954)

Folk craft and design of the Sixties, (Jacopetti, 1974, Gordon 2009)

Music (Bromell 2000, Henke, Perry, & Miles 1997) 

Rock Posters (Tomlinson & Medeiros 2001)

Psychedelic, optical, visionary (Rubin 2010) 


Innovative thinking (Fadiman 2011, Roberts 2013, 135-138)

Role in computer industry (Markoff  2005)

Founding a corporation (Roberts 2013, 193-206)


General review (Winkelman & Roberts 2007)

Bibliography 1931-1995. (Passie 1997)

Psycholytic and mystical experience methods (Grof 1980)

Overcoming fear of death (Grob & Danforth this book)

Current news:

(Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies  

(Heffter Research Institute 


The Pharmacology of LSD (Hintzen & Passie 2010)

Slightly explored molecules (Shulgin & Shulgin 1991, 1997)

Neuropharmacology of Religious Experience (Nichols & Chemal 2006)


Worldwide survey (Schultes & Hofmann 1992)

Plant sources and their history (Ott 1993)

These examples provide proof of concept for psychedelics’ wide ranging intellectual value.

Although these items show that some welcome progress is being made in the frontiers of psychedelic scholarship, when I lecture, it isn’t unusual for someone afterward to talk with me privately, “I wish I could teach a class like yours (or publish professionally on psychedelics) at X University or Y College.” Additionally, during the winter months I receive emails from college seniors who would like to find graduate programs where they can pursue their psychedelic interests academically. Unfortunately, there are very few and almost all in the health fields. These requests come along so frequently, that I’ve collected my suggestions into a paper  “Psychedelics: Hints on Looking for Graduate Programs” at my website (niu.academia.niu/ThomasRoberts). Currently, would-be professors in fields other than psychiatry and clinical psychology have to take traditional programs and hope to expand their careers later to include their psychedelic interests. Among the increasing number of adjunct professors whose jobs are temporary and tenuous, there is fear that they won’t be rehired if they come out of the psychedelic closet. In what should be an open and free marketplace of ideas, these scholars are second-class citizens, almost prisoners. 

Is this situation one that:

universities should willingly allow

a free society produces

increases individuals’ joy of living 

professional societies ought to encourage

the heirs of the Enlightenment want to inherit

helps scientists, humanists, and artists be productive 

civil libertarians accept

improves democracy 

respects personal freedom and conscience

none of the above

answer: j. How can policy makers strike a rational balance between psychedelics’ dangers and benefits? This is another type of issue that considers powerful and dangerous things like fire, knives, guns, and money. As with these, there is bound to be no solution that holds in every instance or that all people will agree on. Considering the evidence above and elsewhere, for psychotherapeutic, religious, artistic, and intellectual uses, the burden of proof has shifted to those who advocate restrictive laws on psychedelics. 

In fact, the more I think about this topic the more quag I see in this quagmire. For example, we noted above that current research and treatment protocols have four stages: selection, preparation, guidance, and integration. Apparently, this works fine for clinical research and treatment, but sidesteps problems for other uses. Each one of these steps will have to differ its fit for, say, religion, medicine, education, and daily life. It is not at all clear which decisions belong to each individual persons, which are best handled by professional groups, where the roles of organizations fit in, and what belongs to the government or even which level of government and which agencies or commissions are best suited for which tasks.  

RELIGION EXAMPLE. Suppose Crazy Tom applies to be a volunteer in a psilocybin experiment but is turned away because he is mentally unstable. (This might make him a good candidate for psychotherapy, however.) Then he claims psychedelics are his sacrament and finds a way to buy them. At what point does freedom of religion enter the case? He can point out that the Native American Church and the União do Vegetal are allowed to use, respectively, peyote and ayahuasca. If he is refused legal permission because he is not part of a recognized church, the courts have put themselves into the position of deciding which churches are established for entheogenic purposes in the court’s opinion. He might still claim that Judaism started with one person, Abraham or two if you include Sarah, Christianity started with 13. So can he recruit 12 friends to join him in founding a new religion?  How are policy makers to write clear policy in this case? Furthermore, if one takes the position that text-based religion is giving way to experience-based religion and/or that mystical experiences are founding events that eventually grow into organized religions (Roberts 2013, 2014) how are policy makers going to incorporate these views?

MEDICAL EXAMPLE. Jane Doe is a wounded soldier who is till in active service. She suffers from PTSD and has seen research that MDMA-assisted psychotherapy has cured similar veterans.  She obtains some illegally, takes it on her own or with a friend as sitter, and is cured. Then she is arrested by local police, is dishonorably discharged, and loses her VA benefits.  What are the policy issues in this case and how can they be resolved? Suppose her fiancé, a medical doctor, is the one who has obtained the MDMA for her? 

SCHOLARLY EXAMPLE. Eric Mills has submitted a doctoral dissertation in which he claims that psychoactive mushrooms played important cultural roles in the ancient Mediterranean area. His angry dissertation chairman requires him to remove what seems to him scurrilous material. Mills maintains that his chair is acting unprofessionally, is exercising academic censorship of Mills’s opinion. He appeals to the full faculty of his department and to the Dean of the Graduate School. Being an empiricist, Mills claims that his thesis is credible and that the best evidence for it requires that the faculty and the Graduate Dean involved in his appeal eat the mushrooms themselves. If they refuse, are they reenacting the apocryphal story of the Cardinals who refused to look through Galileo’s telescope? What policies should universities have? Editors of journals? Professional societies? 

PERSONAL FREEDOM EXAMPLE. Carolyn wants to explore and enjoy her own mind with LSD in the privacy of her backyard.  Who has the right to make this decision?  On what grounds? With what, if any, limitations? Under what conditions, if any? Which are allowable drugs and which not allowed?  Which freedoms, rights, standards, and laws apply, and which don’t?  Medicine, religion, and education have organizations that might be involved in decisions in their fields. Who has the right to determine what she can or can’t do with her own mind? I predict that this will be one of the most delightful discussions for ethicists and policy makers. 

Summary Mind Control Policy

Because psychedelics influence sensations, thinking processes, powerful emotions, memory, idea formation and believability, psychedelic policy is mind-control policy. It may constrict or free the way our minds work. When policy makers and ethicists consider cases such as those just above, their menu of duties includes considering:

psychotherapeutic and medical uses

entheogenic uses 

intellectual, scientific, and academic freedoms 

Constitutional rights

cognitive liberties (Center for Cognitive Liberties and Ethics)

drugs as mindapps for accessing psychedelic mindbody states, their resident ideas, and thinking processes

 primarily, experiencing the best evidence themselves. 

More than that and beyond the scope of this book, the same items need to be addressed for all mindapps and the mindbody states they produce (Cardeña & Winkelman 2011, Roberts 2013). Depending on what they decide, policy makers and ethicists will constrict or liberate the full power of the human mind. 



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This chapter is from the forthcoming book, The Psychedelic Policy Quaqmire, edited by J. H. Ellens and T. B. Roberts. Publisher: Praeger/ABC-CLIO. (c) Thomas B. Roberts 2014. It will be available October 31, 2014. 

Image by Tyler Merbler, courtesy of Creative Commons licensing.

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