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Utilizing Psychedelics for Personal Growth

Psychedelics for Personal Growth
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Psychedelics can assist personal growth because psychedelic states offer unparalleled opportunities. It’s not uncommon to hear people describe their trips as like years of therapy condensed into a few hours. Science is finding that these dramatic effects are real, with psychedelic compounds helping to heal trauma, treat depression, and even resolve people’s fear of death. Efforts to decriminalize psychedelics have achieved unprecedented success in recent years. Perhaps you live in a city, state, or country where you will not be physically imprisoned if you choose to cultivate and consume your own magic mushrooms. Perhaps you’ve heard stories of people transforming for the better after using psychedelics and it has peaked your interest. Where do you begin?

Are Psychedelics Right for You?

The first thing to consider is whether you’re currently in the right place to use psychedelics for personal growth. It is imperative that you honestly assess your mental health. If you have any symptoms of mania or psychosis, psychedelics may exacerbate these issues. For this reason, using them may not be right for you. If you feel particularly isolated and have no social support around you, these dramatic experiences may serve to destabilize you, instead of providing healing and growth. It is also a good idea to have taken part in conventional talking therapy. Become familiar with the terrain of your own mind before turning to the big medicine of psychedelics. Psychedelic therapy for personal growth is an advanced technique.

Why Trip?

Psychedelics are widely used for recreation, to simply shut off from the world for a while and have a good time. This is no surprise. The psychedelic state is perhaps the single most beautiful and awe-inspiring experience an individual can have. People routinely experience their psychological burdens melting away to reveal an enlightened state of perfect peace and boundless love. With the right preparation, an altered state of this kind offers a wonderful opportunity to turn inwards. This may help you resolve the issues that could be keeping you from being as happy as possible in daily life.

The Dark Side of the Mind

Below the surface of our minds, there are memories and feelings that we’d rather weren’t there. Perhaps they are traumatic or shame-inducing. But typically, instead of bringing awareness to them, we avoid them. We let them sit undisturbed in the depths of our minds. The problem is that we never truly forget they are there. From their place in the darkness they can dominate our lives without our realizing it. This side of yourself is what Carl Jung called the shadow

“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”

—Carl Jung

Facing Your Shadow

While it makes sense that we typically avoid the parts of our minds that are upsetting to engage with, the psychedelic experience offers a window of time to shine some light on these inner demons. This allows us to be released from their control and become more whole as a person. During recreational experiences, people typically try to tiptoe around this shadow material. When it comes up, they may see it as unwanted and distressing. People typically describe this type of experience as a “bad trip.” When using psychedelics for personal growth, however, the aim is to allow this material to come up. You must understand and welcome it as a part of yourself.

How Does it Work?

Psychedelics act in the brain to reduce how tightly we hold on to preexisting beliefs. Without our knowing it, these beliefs can weigh very heavily on us in daily life. This produces states of stress and unhappiness. As psychedelics gradually dissolve these states, a blissful peace can be found at the core of your mind. From this place it becomes possible to see yourself with fresh perspective, with more objectivity and acceptance. You transition from normal waking consciousness to a euphoric state. In this way, it becomes possible to identify the psychological factors that limit your mind in daily life. These factors too often keep you from feeling contented in the present moment. However, deep insights into yourself can occur from this place of self-acceptance. This allows you to take steps in the real world to improve your life.


A renaissance in interest in psychedelics is currently underway. Of the classical psychedelics, psilocybin is arguably the poster child for the new movement. Psilocybin has not been propagandized against as extensively as LSD. This makes it easier for governments to grant approval for research projects. What’s more, since decriminalization is not the same as legalization, in most cases it is still illegal to procure substances such as LSD via routes such as the dark web. However, psilocybin-containing magic mushrooms can be easily grown at home from ingredients that are legal to own. You can purchase them online, making them a popular psychedelic in the decriminalization movement.

Starting Small

Microdosing, the practice of taking a very small dose of a psychedelic, is the safest place to start. People microdose for many reasons, from treating the symptoms of depression to increasing one’s focus and creativity. A microdose is such a small amount that there is very little risk involved. The aim is to experience a subtly altered state but one in which you are thoroughly grounded in your everyday experience of the world, just with a little twist. A microdose of 0.2 g of dried magic mushrooms will typically produce positive effects. These include improvement in mood, focus, and creative thinking. The effects typically last for 4–6 hours. For a 10 microgram microdose of LSD, the effects will be similar with a greater stimulant effect, and can last for 9–12 hours.

Playing it Safe

The two major dangers to be avoided when taking psychedelics come from intoxication and from feeling overwhelmed. As with any other intoxicating substance, you might injure yourself if behaving irresponsibly while under the influence of a psychedelic. The risk of feeling overwhelmed comes about when harm reduction practices have not been taken into account beforehand. This may create a sense of anxiety that can build into panic. Unless one is very susceptible to panic attacks, a microdose should be so far from an overwhelming or intoxicating dose that the risks involved are minimal. 

Full Dose Sessions

When planning a psychedelic experience for personal growth, the preparation stage is as important as the experience itself. Arranging the physical environment, setting an intention, and knowing how you plan to navigate the experience are key factors. This will transform an otherwise forgettable recreational experience into an opportunity for transformative change. You may also consider having a trip sitter.

Early Preparation

In the early stages it is crucial to do your research. Reading guides like this one, listening to the reports of others, and generally familiarizing yourself with what you might be able to expect from the experience are all valuable practices. At this point you will also want to consider harm reduction practices like ensuring the substance you plan to take is what you think it is. Finally, practicing mindfulness for 10 minutes daily is excellent preparation for navigating the experience. It will train you to surrender to whatever is coming up in your mind and to just experience it, instead of resisting it. 

You may also want to consider purchasing an eye mask and either headphones or speakers to play music through during the experience. The dose you choose is also crucial. Two to three dried grams of mushrooms is an average full dose. Consider starting at the lower end in order to play it safe. This is comparable to 100–200 micrograms of LSD.


In the days leading up to the experience, prepare the following items: eye mask, speakers or headphones for music, a blanket, comfort items, tissues, and light snacks, such as pre-peeled oranges, pre-sliced apples, crackers, dark chocolate, etc.

You can also prepare a method for note-taking—pen and paper, a voice recorder, a laptop—in case you want to record your insights. Just be careful not to spend the whole time writing and thinking about the experience, rather than experiencing it.

Download a music playlist for playing offline. The playlists used in clinical trials can be found online, and the author’s personal playlist can be found here.

Prepare a comfortable space where you can lie down and sit up. Make sure that you won’t be disturbed for six hours. Put your phone in flight mode before beginning.

The Actual Experience

  1. Put your phone in flight mode 
  2. Start your playlist
  3. Take the psychedelic
  4. Put on the eye mask and lie back
  5. For the first 20 minutes, relax, take deep breaths, and listen to the music
  6. Images, memories and emotions will come. Just observe them and breathe.

When in the experience, all you have to do is let go and relax into it. Memories that produce sadness or fear may come up and your instinct may be to turn away. All you have to do is surrender and experience whatever is coming up. If we don’t accept and experience these emotions, they become like knots that we carry around inside us. The emotion can’t hurt you. Experience it. and let the knot unravel. Experience the profound sense of well-being that’s on the other side of the emotion. 

Accepting Your Shadow

Whatever comes up is part of you. Welcome it; let it come out and move through you. Struggling with what we are, rather than accepting it, is the source of a lot of unnecessary suffering. When we allow all emotions to come out and to exist, we can find ourselves in an enlightened state of perfect peaceful presence. This is the core nature of your mind, but it’s usually obscured by all the thoughts and unresolved emotional issues we struggle with. You can discover that at your core is perfect contentment, peace, and well-being. All you have to do is surrender to what is in the present moment. By being taken to this mental space we get a chance to see what keeps us from it in our everyday lives. So the only thing to remember is “surrender and breathe.”

Returning to Normality

For mushrooms, after approximately four hours you’ll feel yourself returning to normality. You should be fully down by around 6–8 hours. For LSD, you may begin coming down after 9 hours, fully returning to baseline after 12 hours. Start to write about your key insights if you feel like it. Talk with a friend if that feels right. Eat some food to ground yourself and enjoy reconnecting with the world.


Integrating the insights of the experience is as important as the experience itself—if it’s going to produce lasting change. Wonderful methods for integration include journaling about the experience, and cultivating a meditation practice in order to connect with the core peacefulness of your mind.

Macrodosing and Mystical Experiences

In the clinical literature, psilocybin-induced mystical experiences have been found to be particularly effective for treating depression. This involves taking a high dose of psilocybin, typically the equivalent of 3.5 grams of dried mushrooms or above (250 micrograms or above of LSD), in order to experience one’s psychological sense of self dissolving and being replaced with a blissfully altered state of consciousness. These deep waters should only be explored once one is familiar with the process of surrendering to the experience, and welcoming whatever material comes up, as resisting difficult material at this dose could leave one feeling overwhelmed. Starting with a 2 gram mushroom dose, followed by a further 2 grams—if all is going well after an hour or two—can also help ensure you don’t enter this terrain too steeply.

Other Substances

Psilocybin mushrooms and LSD have been widely used for personal growth for decades. Ayahuasca ceremonies also offer an excellent approach to using psychedelics for self improvement. Non-classical psychedelics such as MDMA and ketamine are best experienced in a clinical setting with trained medical practitioners. Substances such as NN-DMT and 5-MEO-DMT have also been found to offer therapeutic potential. Rather than providing insight into one’s own psychology, they instead produce highly altered states of consciousness, similar to the effects of macrodosing outlined above.

Growth Mindset

When using psychedelic experiences for personal growth, the experience itself is just one moment in an ongoing process. Unlike with recreational use, the preparation and integration of the experience is as important as the experience itself. The experience can allow you to see the terrain of your mind with enough perspective that, perhaps for the first time in your life, the direction of growth becomes visible. From that point on you have the opportunity to release yourself from your unconscious patterns. Your life can become an ongoing transformative process of ever greater fulfillment and well-being.


  • Dr. James Cooke

    Dr. James Cooke is a neuroscientist, writer, and speaker, whose work focuses on consciousness, with a particular interest in meditative and psychedelic states. He studied Experimental Psychology and Neuroscience at Oxford University and is passionate about exploring the relationship between science and spirituality, which he does via his writing and his YouTube channel, He splits his time between London and the mountains of Portugal where he is building a retreat centre, The Surrender Homestead, @TheSurrenderHomestead on Instagram. Find him @DrJamesCooke on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, or at

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