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Canna Aid

The Fungus Among Us, Vol. 4

If you’ve yet to read Volumes 1, 2 or 3, it is recommended that you catch up on those first before starting this installment. You can do that by starting here: The Fungus Among Us.

“It’s so hard to—to put into words . . . it’s something that you have always known was there . . . it’s a remembrance. You know, we have this connection with nature, with life, with each other, with Spirit, with God that kind of falls into the background. It’s not even in the background to some people. It almost turns into something that’s written in books . . . you don’t really relate to it in terms of being part of the world that we live in. But what Ayahuasca did was it just connected me immediately with not just my inner child and my inner self, but . . . the essence of life . . . the essence of how I am connected to everything and how everything is connected to me.”

These were the words of Alex Atwood, founder and CEO of the app-based staffing service, GravyWork, as well as a serial entrepreneur, podcaster, angel investor, and coach in the emerging realm of therapeutic psychedelics, as captured in a recent one-one-one interview with Paul Austin on the Psychedelic Podcast by The Third Wave.

The exchange is specifically about Atwood’s own experience with Ayuhuasca, the plant-based entheogenic brew traditionally used in shamanic rituals in the Amazonian regions of Brazil, Peru, and Ecuador. But at some level, the account could just as easily apply to any one of the other commonly known psychedelics, be it psilocybin, LSD, DMT, or mescaline.

There is a risk in this assertion that must be acknowledged. Atwood’s experience was deeply personal and thus shouldn’t be generalized to the point of diminishment. Moreover, each of these substances is unique its own right, offering an experience to the user that can’t be replicated by any other.

But even so, the universality of experience – both in terms of substance and of individual user – is undeniable, and as such, serves as an indication of a deeper truth to be discovered, or more apropos, remembered.1

 At the core of Atwood’s words lies the secret to why these compounds are so staggeringly effective in the treatment of so many psychological, neurological and emotional disorders, from anxiety, to addiction; chronic depression to PTSD.

Within the experience of each of these substances, there is a poignant and overwhelming sensation of oneness, a universal connectedness that triggers a surge of empathy and a dissolution of ego that brings a seismic shift in perspective – an enlightenment, even. Yet somehow that enlightenment feels more like a memory than a revelation. Every journey is personal and no two are 100% alike, but this sensation is as close to universal as can be logically asserted.

It is by way of this melting of the ego – that is, the illusion by which we define ourselves, based on the emotional and psychological baggage we accrue and carry with us – that one can achieve inner healing in such impactful and lasting ways. As the self diminishes, so too do the problems and ailments that one has come to associate with the self. Herein lies the magic. The experience isn’t of a religious nature, exactly; human-made dogma seems so small and petty in the moment of enlightenment. But it is deeply spiritual.

If you have followed along through the first three installments of this series and now find the fourth to be a hard left turn, rest assured that it is by design. It felt appropriate to pump the breaks, so to speak.

HQ Magazine is a trade publication. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the author to prioritize commercial interests when tackling any emerging topic. But it’s important to remember that the industry we service originally sprung from a movement that formed as a reaction against the exploitative nature of unchecked capitalism. Turn on, tune in, drop out, as it were.

With that in mind, it feels appropriate to acknowledge the searing irony of reducing the abstract, metaphysical wonders of psychedelic drugs, the literal catalyst for the entire counter-cultural movement, to the concrete materialism of a consumer marketplace. It’s necessary, yes, but the necessity of it does little to mitigate the underlying sense of profanity.

Let us not be so naïve to think that we can propel this new wave of psychedelic interest forward, completely detached from a viable marketplace. But let us also not be so calloused and calculated that all we can see are the potential revenue streams. Somewhere between the poles, there is a balance, and it’s imperative that we strike it.

Parallel to this installment, you’ll find direct quotes from industry veterans, leaders and experts on what we can learn from our experience in the normalization and commodification of the cannabis plant over the last decade and a half and apply to the impending realm of legal psychedelics. Absorb them. Heed them. Treasure them, even, especially if you are a newcomer to this space. These operatives have a perspective that you do not and cannot yet have, and perspective is a helluva drug.

But likewise, heed these.

It has often been said that cannabis consumption is a sacred ritual and by extension, the accessory through which it is consumed is a sacred vessel. There is truth to this, but in light of society’s impending reunion with entheogens, this truth feels diminished.

Cannabis can be and often is a catalyst for healing and spiritual awakening. This much is true. However, by virtue of the mildness of its psychoactive properties, it is equally recreational. It can be consumed casually, without intention, purely for kicks. It is for this reason that the purists among us have been able to tolerate the reductionist approach employed by the opportunists and corporate interests who showed up as the wave of legalization began to crest and parsed out the plant, one cannabinoid at a time, to squeeze out every drop of profit.

But entheogens are an entirely different paradigm of sanctity. They have been used as party favors in the past, yes, even by those whom we revere as forebearers of the movement. But in most, if not all cases, casual use is unwise and ill-advised. These substances are more than molecules to be exploited; they are portals to the divine realm, capable of altering the user’s life in a single dose.

This is not to discourage entrepreneurs from stepping into this emergent space. On the contrary, we need you. Without the dollar signs, there are no lobbyists to effect the change that we want to see in Washington. This is only to remind you of the importance of the space you’re stepping into and to implore you to exercise a modicum of understanding and reverence for the compounds over which you intend to stake your market share.2

The 60s are over. It’s no longer “Turn on, tune in, drop out.” In its place is a new mantra, and Paul Austin from The Third Wave puts it best.

“I love this phrase: ‘Wake up, grow up, show up,’” he says. “Psychedelics can help us to wake up, go through a maturation process of really growing up, and then figure out how we want to show up to build the new systems of tomorrow.”

Let’s start building.

1Word of advice: Pay little attention to the apparent contradictions. After all, the substances we discuss are ones that commonly woo their user into a wrestling match with the nature of reality itself. The paradoxes are legion.

2It is the nature of the consumer market to inevitably reduce the elements of a commodity to its lowest common denominator for the sake of optimal profits. Thus, in giving this advice, I remember the words of Benjamin Franklin in his exhortation to Thomas Paine not to publish The Age of Reason.

“He who spits in the wind, spits in his own face,” Franklin wrote. At least it’s just spit.

My Journey

This is an excerpt from a blog post from 2013 that immediately followed my first legitimately transcendental experience with psilocybin mushrooms. Over the years, I would continue to explore the depths of reality through chemical enhancement, experimenting with LSD, ayahuasca, crystalized DMT and dozens more mushroom experiences. Every experience has contributed to the person I am proud to have become, but to this day, none have been more consequential than that first.

 The patterns on the blanket shifted and fluttered and then rose into three dimensional shapes. The gravel surrounding the blanket became an ocean, but one of gelatinous cubes inter-dispersed with self-sustaining points of light that would momentarily shift into discernible eyes, winking in and out of existence as the waves crested and bowed gently. The fog hung thick in the air and closed in around me like a curtain, creating a notion of isolation that brought an element of security. That’s when the journey began…

Lying flat on my back, I stared . . . watching the trees heave with breath, and the cosmos pulsate with life, but also watching the manifestation of divinity with my mind’s eye. I breathed deeply and smiled generously as everything that up until this point that had defined my existence, my struggles, fears, hopes, dreams, desires, appetites, memories, regrets, doubts, all of those things that, to me, defined me, slipped into distant memory.

Having shed my sense of self like a lead coat, I became aware of what I could only define as true reality. Strangely, it felt more like a reminder than a revelation; like waking from a long dark dream and realizing how much more beautiful reality is, but also knowing that the clarity was fleeting and the murky dream would resume in time. Still, it didn’t matter. I was pure consciousness, pure joy, pure knowledge, pure satisfaction, pure existence.

In truth, I was in a state of existence that words insult in their attempt at definition, communing with a deity whose ways and thoughts cannot translate into the language of men. I can only describe the interaction as an embrace, but one that also communicated the very truth of existence, again indefinable by the constraints of language. Time became an illusion as did life itself. I was no longer stuck inside one point of my life, but rather equal in proximity and distance to and from every point that my life had been and would be-childhood, high school, adulthood, even a hazy vision of old age-they were all distant memories yet only a breath away.

I understood everything but the mind below still encased within the illusion of flesh could quantify nothing. Below, the mortal coil lay nearly motionless, heaving in deep breaths, sighing in amazement and muttering continual thanks for the blessing of the moment that in truth, wasn’t a moment at all. Fear disappeared as I realized Illusions could be cast aside rather than feared. Hurt went out the door next . . . One by one, the little demons that cling to the unreality of life dropped by the wayside as their sting disappeared with their relevance.

The divine embrace became my new definition as it immersed me and became me, my only point of melancholy again being the knowledge that I would eventually have to return to the illusion, not forever but for another chunk of that linear trap that the mortal part of me knew as “time.” For the first time, it made sense to me why in the Bible, when humans asked God for his name, he responded simply with “I Am.”

Slowly, I slipped back into the dream I once thought to be concrete, at least for the moment, in a perfect state of contentment, love and gratitude the only emotions that flowed from my being and the only fear being that one day I would again accept this illusion as reality. 

Additional Reading

Food of the Gods

Terence McKenna
Food of the Gods is the crowning literary achievement of Terence McKenna, writer, ethnobotanist and counter-cultural icon who explored the intersection of shamanism, psychedelic drugs, and human consciousness. The book argues that the evolution of human consciousness and culture is tied to the use of psychoactive plants and mushrooms, dubbed herein as “food of the gods.” McKenna draws on evidence from anthropology, archaeology, and neuroscience to support his theory that these substances played a crucial role in the development of language, religion, and art. Though often maligned by mainstream contemporaries, McKenna’s work presents a fascinating perspective on the role of psychoactive plants in human evolution and culture.

Microdosing Psychedelics: A Practical Guide to Upgrade Your Life

Paul Austin
Interested in microdosing? This is the perfect beginner’s guide. Using accessible, but well-constructed language, Paul Austin deftly explains what microdosing is, how it works, and the benefit and risks associated with the practice. Pleasantly void of pretension, insular language and overly academic jargon, the book focuses on the practical matters of microdosing, including substance and dosage, life integration, risk management, and much more. This comprehensive guide is the perfect companion for anyone interested in personal betterment through a managed regimen of psychedelic compounds, from the certified ‘psychonaut’ to the suburban soccer mom.

How to Change Your Mind

Michael Pollan
Now considered essential reading for anyone in the entheogen movement, How to Change Your Mind takes a fascinating deep-dive into the potential therapeutic benefits of psychedelic compounds, particularly psilocybin and LSD. Pollan delves into the history of these psychedelics, their cultural significance, and the scientific research that has been conducted on them. Using personal experience, a wide body of research, and extensive interviews with therapists, researchers and users, Pollan makes a compelling argument that psychedelics have the potential to transform mental health treatment and our understanding of consciousness.

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test

Tom Wolfe
Tom Wolfe’s seminal opus takes a frenetic plunge into the cultural phenomenon of the 1960s counterculture movement, focusing especially on its fascination with psychedelic drugs.

The book follows Kesey and the Merry Pranksters as they travel across the United States in a brightly painted bus, engaging in experimental drug use, music, and performance art. Vivid in his descriptions of the infamous “Acid Tests,” (all night benders of heroic-level dosing), Wolfe weaves an era-defining narrative of psychedelic mayhem and chaotic shenanigans that offers a a rare glimpse into the second wave of psychedelics and the ideals that inspired it, including a rejection of mainstream culture, a belief in the power of mind-altering substances to unlock new insights and perspectives, and a celebration of spontaneity and creative expression.
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test is a vibrant and colorful portrait of a fascinating era in American history and a pivotal work in the annals of countercultural literature.

DMT: The Spirit Molecule

Dr. Rick Strassman
DMT: The Spirit Molecule offers a compelling exploration of the potential of psychedelic substances to catalyze spiritual and transformative experiences, as well as their potential to advance our understanding of the nature of human consciousness.

Based on Dr. Strassman’s clinical research into the effects of DMT on human subjects conducted in the 1990s, the book provides detailed accounts of the study participants’ intense and often otherworldly experiences after receiving intravenous injections of DMT.

Delving into the cultural and historical contexts of DMT, Strassman examines its use in traditional shamanic practices along with its potential role in modern spiritual practices, and explores the scientific and philosophical implications of DMT experiences, including their potential to challenge traditional notions of reality and consciousness.

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