"My shaman serves five different psychedelics over a weekend of journeying", I hear this and my first thought is "here we go again!".
I must admit, I cringe every time I hear yet another person share about their "shaman's box of curated medicines". I have had the privilege of being intimately connected to intentional psychedelic communities for nearly 15 years and this new extreme tripping trend has only widely emerged in the past couple of years as psychedelic medicines have been reintroduced to the mainstream narrative. And, I am deeply concerned.
The conversation often goes something like this:
Psychonaut: "My shaman serves psilocybin, MDMA, yopo, dried ayahuasca powder, San Pedro, and 5meo-DMT, and it's mind-blowing."
Me: "I've been hearing that a lot lately and I honestly don't know if that is a good idea."
Psychonaut: "What do you mean? I've done it and it's amazing!"
Me: "Well, we don't know anything about how these compounds interact with each other and how they can affect each individual."
Psychonaut: "I've done it three times and no one had any issues."
Me: "I guess if every time people experienced strong adverse effects, no one would do it but that's not what I am referring to. Different people can have different reactions to the combination of substances and effects can even vary for the same person from time to time."
Psychonaut: "But my shaman is really knowledgable and experienced."
Me: "Here is the thing, almost all indigenous traditions that have safeguarded and carried psychedelic medicines for centuries, don't have a practice of combining strong psychedelic substances except in some rare cases like combining the ayahuasca brew with another Amazonian psychoactive plant like a datura variety or serving San Pedro the morning after an ayahuasca journey. While combining some of these substances might be safe, we don't have enough history or any scientific research to assess the safety of these combinations."
Psychonaut: "Ok, so what's the worst that can happen?"
Me: "It's hard to tell but there are many reports of individuals experiencing psychotic episodes that last days, weeks, and even many months when combining substances."
Psychonaut: "Wow! Really?! Why is that?"
Me: "We don't really know the full spectrum of the risk factors for even one of these substances, let alone multiple substances combined. In my opinion, if we want to avoid serious potential consequences, we are better off limiting our experiences to one substance or two substances with some demonstrated history of being combined relatively safely. Call me old-fashioned, but I am a purist and believe in giving each substance the sovereign space to deliver its medicine and potency."
Psychonaut: "Hmm, ok! Something to consider for sure."
Having been in the psychedelic space for a long time, I have had my share of experiences, including combining multiple substances before I knew better. My objection to combining psychedelics is summarized in four key areas of concern:
Lack of confidence in the safety
Reinforcing the "more is better" narrative
Imperialistic and disrespectful to indigenous traditions
Jeopardizing the future of psychedelic legislation
Lack of Confidence in The Safety
As both an avid psychonaut myself and a trained nervous system therapist, I have both experienced and witnessed the profound impact of even a single psychedelic experience on the psyche and the nervous system of myself and many clients. Even without combining multiple extremely potent substances together, many individuals with a history of trauma, PTSD, and mental health disorders in the immediate family can experience significant and at times lasting challenges and even harm from certain psychedelic experiences.
While psychedelic traditions with centuries of practice, observation, and fine-tuning have developed some frameworks for safety like the ayahuasca diet or preparatory guidelines for a psilocybin journey, there are no such safety frameworks available for combining substances. There is neither any scientific research nor centuries nor decades of practical data available to provide even minimally validated guidelines for harm reduction. This leaves participants (and practitioners) significantly vulnerable and at risk of harm and liability.
The good news is that there is currently a select small group of scientists exploring the effects of psychedelics according to individual gene profiles. Their preliminary findings suggest that certain gene profiles present a significantly higher risk of harm under the force of certain psychedelics than others. This critical work is laying the groundwork for what in the future might be categorized as "personalized psychedelic medicine".
Until then, the safer way to engage with psychedelics is to ingest one substance at a time or engage only with substance combinations that have some history of being combined relatively safely like the psilocybin and MDMA combination, also known as "hippie flipping" or the LSD and MDMA combination, also known as "candy flipping". It is however important to note that both "hippie-flipping" and "candy-flipping" can produce extremely powerful, disorienting, and at times overwhelming experiences and are strongly discouraged for anyone with a personal or family history of mental health disorders.
Reinforcing The "More is Better" Narrative
As a microdosing expert, trauma-informed guide, and nervous system trainer, I am an avid advocate for the "less is more" practice and philosophy. In a world oversaturated with intensity, excess, and adversity, subtlety is timely and profound medicine.
In conversation with individuals who advocate the extreme tripping experiences, I often ask "Why? What benefits does the extreme combination of many substances offer that is not accessible by ingesting one or two substances?". In my experience, the attachment to excess is yet another manifestation of the "not-enoughness" and "addiction to more" deeply engraved in our consumerist culture.
Long ago, one of the renowned psychedelic teachers I've had the pleasure of studying with, told me that the secret to maximizing the benefits of psychedelic medicines was to learn to "work the small doses and travel the far distance with less and less". I put that wisdom to practice and noticed profound benefits. These days I go further on a large microdose or mini dose than I did on heroic doses a decade ago. Less IS more.
Imperialistic & Disrespectful to Indigenous Traditions
Many psychedelic medicines have been safeguarded by indigenous communities for centuries often at great costs to their liberty and livelihood. While in the recent decades, many psychedelic medicines have been spreading far beyond the borders of their indigenous origins, a conscious and mindful approach invites us into a right relationship with these substances and their origins by honoring and respecting the ancient ways.
Studying, understanding, and respecting the traditions, containers, and approaches to working with psychedelic substances held sacred by some traditions is an important aspect of conscious psychedelic use. As such, combining various substances from different cultures and even synthetic substances, in a non-traditional container with often minimal to no preparation is far from a respectful approach to traditions that have held, protected, and carried these substances.
The practice of imperialistic takeover and disregard of history and traditions is so deeply rooted in the western psyche as a norm that we often don't pause to think twice about our subconscious entitlements. I propose that this is perhaps nowhere more important than in our approach to psychedelic substances held sacred by indigenous traditions. A big teaching of psychedelic medicines is humility, we come to these medicines as a newbie culture ignorant to psychedelic traditions, it will serve us all well to sit with the elder teachers, sit with the tribes, witness, learn, and practice the tested and true ways.
Jeopardizing The Future of Psychedelic Legislation
It is difficult to measure the true cost of the 60s hysteria about psychedelics that led to the criminalization of substances that were actively being studied as treatment options for a wide variety of psychiatric disorders even back then. We have lost decades of research and treatment opportunities that could have saved millions of lives and had contributed to a significant shift in the trajectory of modern human consciousness.
While the reasons for the criminalization of psychedelics were complex and multi-faceted, one of the most publicized reasons was "moral outrage" and concerns about safety stemming from widespread recreational use and sensationalized reporting of "bad trips" and "psychosis". While challenging experiences are often a rite of passage with most psychedelics, with the appropriate harm-reduction efforts, long-term negative consequences are non-existent or extremely rare.
When powerful psychedelic substances are combined together, the potential outcomes are unknown and therefore no reliable mitigation strategies can be implemented to prevent or significantly reduce harm. This not only threatens the safety of the participant and the practitioners but also reinforces the old narrative that "psychedelics are dangerous, further hindering legislative progress during a highly crucial and sensitive time when local governments, state houses, and even the US Congress are beginning to consider decriminalization legislation.
Simply put, the legislative climate is far too delicate for any potential negative public relations campaign stemming from harm caused by recklessly combining psychedelic substances. Is the "extra boost" worth jeopardizing the decades-long lobbying and research efforts that have gotten us to this somewhat favorable legislative climate? No matter how profound and significant the difference between ingesting one substance vs four is, it can not possibly justify delaying or derailing decriminalization efforts that can save millions of lives from unjust incarcerations to access to life-saving therapies for PTSD, addiction, treatment-resistant depression, chronic pain, and many many more debilitating conditions.
Perhaps, as psychedelic research and development grow, we will soon arrive at a position where we will be able to assess psychedelic safety based on individual gene profiles and begin to explore the potential healing qualities available in psychedelic substance combinations but until then, it is my invitation, hope, and prayers that we engage mindfully, safely, and consciously with these potent substances.