Bam (not his real name) – a 22-year-old construction worker from upstate New York – was on a vacation that was about to change his life.
By any reasonable standards, his destination that weekend was pretty unremarkable. He had driven five hours south to Boston, Massachusetts, where an old friend from summer camp had invited him to stay at a family home in a quiet suburban neighbourhood.
The house had two floors, a garage, and a backyard on the banks of a brackish pond where ducks and geese occasionally sailed by. In the afternoons, families strolled by with their children and their dogs. It was the typical middle-class North American home. It was a beautiful place, and although by no means an exciting nor exotic destination, it was a healthy space for a rejuvenating retreat. Bam’s host and childhood friend, Peter Pan (totally his real name) had thought that it would be a good place for him to get away and recharge from the stresses of city life. But he was in for a more special experience.
What struck me the most about Bam’s hands as I held them was how hard they felt against mine. These were hands that had seen hard work and a hard life. This was a person worn down, or so was the vibe I got; he didn’t speak much. Under ordinary circumstances, either of us would’ve felt the awkwardness from such intimate proximity to a stranger. But that day we were all part of a Healing; with gentle encouragement from Peter, our resident Healer, we held hands as a way to share our energy, to feel love and caring for – and from – others, to be grounded by a connection with our fellow Man.
The Healing drew inspiration from indigenous Shamanic traditions and their ritualized use of entheogenic substances, but instead of more traditional psychedelics like peyote, ayahuasca or psilocybin, Bam was being treated with what contemporary slang called a “Candyflip”, the use of the drugs LSD and MDMA. However, the process doesn’t refer to simply combining the two, but rather a staggered method that produces an entirely unique effect, much unlike each substance on its own. Candyflipping requires that the relative “peak” times of the two drugs do not clash, or it would produce a sort of drunken intoxication that could be – depending on the person – either unpleasant or pointlessly fun.
But fun was not the agenda that day. A Healing had the power to potentially change someone’s life; the insight and growth attained in the process could be passed on to someone else that needed it, thus creating a ripple effect that if left unchecked, had the power to change the world for the better.
It was up to our Healer to create the safe environment in which to catalyse this change. Peter had carefully calculated each dosage for Bam in proportion to his weight; too little would yield insufficient effect, while too much could prove disastrous. He had also prepared methods for harm reduction in the form of supplements and nootropics, to bolster the body and mind against unwanted effects such as muscle cramps, teeth grinding and brain fatigue the day after. He recommended yoghurt to line the stomach and ease absorption of the chemicals into the body, and guided Bam in deep breathing techniques to regulate his flow of energy. And finally, he had engaged someone to keep house, someone to make warm food, pillow forts and play suitable music: Me. The setting was perfect.
It had been an exhausting day for Bam. His first taste of LSD went exactly like it should, by violently expanding his perception of life and invoking introspection of himself. The use of psychedelic agents in Western therapy was not a new idea, but one that dates back to the ’50s after widespread distribution of LSD to researchers by its manufacturer, Sandoz Laboratories. In the next 10 to 15 years, research into experimental, chemotherapeutic and psychotherapeutic uses of psychedelic substances was conducted in several countries, with proponents believing that psychedelic drugs facilitated psychoanalytic processes and exploration of the psyche.
Current case studies show that LSD can be used to treat addictions to opium and alcohol while psilocybin (magic mushrooms) is useful in treating addictions, depression and severe anxiety.
But even without the science to back it up, evidence that the psychedelic was an uplifting experience for him was etched across his face in an expression of wonder. “We’re a system that’s part of an even larger system. Everything’s a part of everything else,” he had said, steeped in realization about the interconnectedness of the universe. It was a simple truth, but overlooked by so many of us. He was transfixed on a faraway point out the window.
“If I do this,” he presses a thumb and a finger against the glass, “it looks like an alien.” Definitely tripping balls.
The MDMA on the other hand had encouraged his heart to open and fill up with compassion and forgiveness, not only for the world at large, but also for himself. Despite a reputation sullied by a generation of irresponsible ravers and party animals, preliminary studies of the drug has shown that MDMA could be useful for something other than merely a good time. The stigmatisation is unfortunate, and the persecution by the law even more so, but in its essence, the drug is merely a substance, one that can be harnessed for good with a thoroughly informed understanding of what it can do. And by some miracle of science, MDMA has the ability to create an increased feeling of trust and empathy towards others, which could make an ideal adjunct to psychotherapy for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder… or simply a way to make the world a kinder place. Chemically induced or not, there was no denying that our planet could benefit from a whole lot of Love.
While LSD had taken his mind to apprehend the world around him, the MDMA had brought him to look within himself; it had allowed Bam to be vulnerable and real, to share with us the deepest parts of him – cynicism, guilt, depression – parts that were dark and heavy and rarely shown to anyone. He spoke about having suicidal thoughts, about being haunted by past misdeeds, about his parents. He told us about the month spent in an institution, the size of the hallway in which patients could pace about all day, and shared about the feeling of utter hopelessness of it all. He showed us videos of the guys at work, destroying objects with big machines for the heck of it. He cried freely, and allowed his old friend to stroke his head. This was no longer the quiet, reserved second-degree friend I met barely a day ago but someone I felt like I knew well, who was fearlessly spilling his heart, and reaching out – expressing and connecting – in a way that was innately human. It was beautiful.
Witnessing this sharing, I became keenly aware of my own prejudices. Not against any physical classification like race or gender, but against those I consider a “stranger,” as opposed to those I call “friend.” Why do we instinctively recoil when we brush against someone we don’t know on a crowded train? Why do we feel the need to put a filter on pictures to show to our hundreds or thousands of followers? Why do we choose to let into the deepest parts of ourselves, only those who’ve crossed a certain threshold of trust? Even then, certain things we are ashamed of, or things we try to forget, get buried in the recesses of the mind, for fear of seeming vulnerable to other people, or worse––being persecuted for it.
This tendency does nothing but build walls around us to shut out the world. In a time when we’re more connected than ever, true, meaningful connections are far and few. I’m guilty of not letting my friendships develop beyond the superficial myself, and how ridiculous was it to learn this from watching someone get high? It seems these drugs have the ability to remove this fear of being vulnerable, to tear down the walls between us, and encourage us to keep it real.
The dark parts of yourself, the disgusting secrets, the things you think your friends will hate you for… all of these are worth sharing, most of them can become important lessons, and some of them might even be inspiring to those you’ve touched. By having the courage to share your Truth and keeping an open heart, the world will only respond with understanding and love.