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psychedelics

Fool’s Gold: The Reality of Psychedelics

September 15, 2023

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According to many people today, Christians have been overlooking the greatest tool in God’s toolbelt to reveal himself, and reality, to us. It isn’t prayer, study, or contemplation. Nor is it the saints or the sacraments. It would appear to many that psychedelics are capable of revealing much more than any of these. Whether they are pills created in a lab, natural chemicals found in plants, or even the little mushrooms flourishing under cow pies, it appears we have a lot to thank these drugs for when it comes to our human development.

As Christians, we may know this narrative to be false, but it does not mean that we should not be aware of it. We should be paying particularly close attention to these conversations in the present moment as fascination with and use of these substances continues to rise. Over the last fifty years, these drugs have begun to stack up accolades. It was not until recently, however, that these drugs began to find such overwhelming mainstream popularity in our culture. From Joe Rogan to Jordan Peterson, many have begun to speculate about the role psychedelics have played, not only in human development, but in religion as well. 

While discourse surrounding the potentially morally permissible use of these drugs in medical treatments may be necessary and worthwhile, the discourse very rarely ends there. The conversation quickly digresses to the sentiment that these substances are capable of fixing our brokenness and sadness by eliminating our suffering, increasing our openness, improving our mood, and helping us find meaning in life. If we are lucky, the claims stop there, but again, they rarely do. The slippery slope continues from personal development to human development. It no longer just answers our questions in the now but provides answers for where we came from. These claims go as far as to say that psychedelics were the spark that lit the flame needed for our brains to evolve from a monkey state to that of a rational human. Finally, we find the slope turns into a full-blown mudslide as celebrities and researchers alike speculate about the role of psychedelics in religious development. Their claims go as far as to credit them as the source of many organized religions, including Judaism and Christianity. One theory that gained worldwide attention in 2008 and continues to be discussed on podcasts across the globe even speculated that Moses’ encounters with God in the burning bush and on Mount Sinai could have been nothing more than a psychedelic trip. All of this being said, it is easy to see that many people view psychedelics as the key to unlocking the truth behind who we are, why we are here, and how the world came to be what it is. 

When our foundation is outside of God, we find that our foundation is rooted in nothingness.

The claim that there may be something that can deliver such high degrees of wisdom in such a short amount of time is nothing to take lightly. If this claim is true, then we all have a lot of thinking to do about the implications. However, due to the sheer gravity of these claims, it is worth analyzing in great detail to discern what is true and what is false. 

Many users of these drugs describe their experiences with psychedelics to be spiritual in nature. It is this perceived spiritual experience that often leads to their view and understanding of themselves and the world being quickly altered. However, as Carl Jung once said in reference to psychedelics and their so-called fruits, “Beware of unearned wisdom.” This wisdom is untested and unverified; therefore, it must be approached cautiously and investigated closely. Through investigation, we quickly discover what these seemingly golden nuggets of wisdom offered to us by psychedelics really are. Although the exterior shines like gold, through testing and verification, we find out that beneath the surface lies not gold but coal. 

We are sold the idea of psychedelics just as false gold dealers deal fool’s gold. They draw our focus to the shiny surface-level characteristics without revealing what lies beneath. In the case of psychedelics, it takes only a little investigation to discover the coal beneath the surface. We often hear of all the good experiences people have with psychedelics, but are there bad experiences too? Why is it that we fail to hear about the overdoses or “bad trips” that have led to individuals committing suicide or manslaughter? Beyond bad trips, these experiences, whether through a full-blown trip or microdosing, have the capability of changing how our brain works completely. Although studies have shown even just one dose of these drugs can in some cases improve someone’s experience of anxiety and depression stemming from trauma, that is not always the outcome—many times they make anxiety and depression even worse. There are also potential negatives that come from these neurological changes. This is because these drugs do not in themselves cure diseases; they merely intensify and expand one’s neuroplasticity. 

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Neuroplasticity can be understood as the brain’s ability to form, change, and reorganize synaptic connections. Moments of hyper-neuroplasticity allow us to learn great amounts of information, change our perspective, form memories, and even facilitate neurological development. These are indeed good things, but they do open us to one vulnerability—moments of hyper-neuroplasticity make us highly susceptible to influence, both good and bad. Psychedelic-induced moments of hyper-neuroplasticity may permanently change one’s understanding of reality, and very often, this is the downfall of psychedelics. One’s foundation of reality no longer stems from the reality they are in with its full context and backing, but rather a fleeting moment in which they escaped and detached from reality. Suddenly, it all makes sense why someone’s identity, political or religious beliefs, or understanding of history and reality could be altered so drastically by these drugs. We must tread very lightly when such dramatic change comes from such fleeting moments.

Staying rooted in reality for a moment, we see that the full context of psychedelic experiences comes with a fair share of risks. Yet people still are turning to them. Why is this? Is it curiosity and peer pressure? Is it the desire to escape reality for a few hours or experience an alternate reality hidden from us? It could be partially all of these things, but none of these are truly the foundational cause. When we remove God from the foundational questions of who we are, why we are here, and how all of this came to be, we are left clinging to anything that will give us an escape from the abyss of nothingness we find ourselves in—even psychedelics. As Christians, we believe that God created ex nihilo—out of nothing. From nothing, came something. It is from this nothing that God created something, and this something is held intact by God, who, in every moment, lovingly keeps us from crumbling to nothingness no matter how far we turn from him. If we remove God from the foundation of life and strip him of his role in our lives and the world, what hope do we have to understand the something he has made? 

When our foundation is outside of God, we find that our foundation is rooted in nothingness. It is no surprise then that we fall for the fool’s gold offerings about personal, human, and religious development we are presented through psychedelics. We all long for answers to these questions; however, without a properly calibrated compass aiming at the divine, we find that we have little to no hope of finding the answers that will fill us with the satisfaction and peace we are searching for. Only with a well-calibrated compass pointed toward God do we see that answers to these questions are not even the true desire of our hearts. What our hearts long for is God, the source and foundation of life and reality itself. Only in him do we find not only answers, purpose, and meaning that we can trust, but true satisfaction and peace. We may wander this earth searching for answers to the foundational questions of life, but as St. Augustine so beautifully said, our hearts will not rest until they rest in God.