“Psychedelics are illegal not because a loving government is concerned that you may jump out of a third story window. Psychedelics are illegal because they dissolve opinion structures and culturally laid down models of behaviour and information processing. They open you up to the possibility that everything you know is wrong.” – Terrence Mckenna
Although the possibility of a bad trip and potentially dangerous behavior does exist (as rare as it is), Terrence Mckenna brings up a few interesting points in his quote above. Psychedelic drugs have been known to open up people’s minds, giving them the ability to see through man-made structures and make them view things differently. In a world where social media and online activity is almost more prominent than real life interaction, this generation is truly living a mundane existence. The search for meaning has never been more relevant, and therefore, it’s no surprise that the psychedelic renaissance is here and it’s happening right now. People are looking beyond their screens and searching for more, and perhaps psychedelics are the best way forward. So, are these just pointless recreational drugs? Or are they the cure for a disillusioned generation?
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The Disillusioned Generation
The year is 2022 and we live in a world of screens. TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and various other platforms are now the place to express personality and gain social status. Plus, with covid having dominated the last 2 years, social meet ups are at an all time low, with zoom calls usually preferred. But what has this done to us? Or, what has this done to generation Z? Centre for Mental Health writes:
“It is thought that addiction to social media affects around 5% of young people, and was recently described as potentially more addictive than alcohol and cigarettes…What is dangerous about this compulsive use is that, if gratification is not experienced, users may internalise beliefs that this is due to being ‘unpopular’, ‘unfunny’”
Social media has created an atmosphere of needed gratification. That’s not to say that this didn’t exist before… Of course it did. Human beings are social animals that want to be liked, and this serves both social and evolutionary purposes. However, rather than this gratification happening in the real world, where people look and feel themselves, it happens online instead. The world of online is a place where people can choose, edit and beautify themselves to look exactly as they want to be perceived.
It’s not real. Pictures are accentuated and changed in order to match a gender beauty ideal that has been created by pornography and media. Experiences are captured and posted online only if they’re amazing and beautiful, showing someone’s life to be far more exciting than it really is. Thoughts are crafted and shared on Twitter and Facebook in perfect sentences, unlike how real thought and conversation happen.
Ultimately, none of it is real and it’s creating an atmosphere where people feel like they’re not enough. They’re not rich enough, they’re not beautiful enough, they’re not interesting enough. According to the Centre of Medical Health, 9 out 10 women are not happy with how they look, which is a symptom of an online world that constantly makes them feel inferior. In addition, suicide rates in men are at an all time high, which is linked to men feeling it isn’t ‘manly’ to open up about their feelings.
The Generation That Wants Change
However, it would be an unfair accusation to label this generation as one that sits passively in its pit of disillusionment. There’s evidence that shows that people are fighting against the grasps of social media. The Content Strategist writes:
“Sixty-four percent of Generation Z is taking a break from at least one social media platform, while thirty-four percent is leaving permanently. This is contradictory to the image of Gen Z’ers as social media natives who grew up with the platforms and for whom social media is a strong sense of identity.”
This generation wants change, just like those in the 60s did. Although the common enemy isn’t as obvious as during the first world war, second world war, or the civil rights in the 1960s, 2022 is a time of sporadic issues. In a sense, this generation has to fight on more than just one front. There is inequality everywhere we look; there are gender issues, racial issues, identity issues, poltical issues, wealth issues and climate issues. With time running out as the world begins to self-destruct, young people of today are forced to try all of these problems at once. As Naoimi Klein once said:
“The task is clear: to create a culture of caretaking in which no one and nowhere is thrown away, in which the inherent value of people and all life is foundational.”
With all of these battles taking place, the lack of trust for the establishment is at an all time low. People are searching elsewhere for information and for meaning. It’s no surprise then that the world of drugs and, more importantly, psychedelics is going through a new renaissance.
What are Psychedelics?
Psychedelic, also known as hallucinogenic, drugs include: LSD, Mescaline, Psilocybin, DMT and Ayahuasca – to name a few. They cause an extremely potent experience that many have labelled spiritual or even religious. On a scientific level, psychedelic drugs alter people’s state of perception. However, unlike less potent drugs, hallucinogens will often make people see hallucinations and dive into the depths of their subconscious. It is believed that psychedelic drugs have the ability to break through social structures and show users an alternative reality. A reality free of boundaries. A reality of meaning, and yet at the same, highlighting the complete lack of meaning. Federico Fellini, the Italian director, said this about his psychedelic trip:
“Objects and their functions no longer had any significance. All I perceived was perception itself, the hell of forms and figures devoid of human emotion and detached from the reality of my unreal environment. I was an instrument in a virtual world that constantly renewed its own meaningless image in a living world that was itself perceived outside of nature. And since the appearance of things was no longer definitive but limitless, this paradisiacal awareness freed me from the reality external to myself.”
The Ego Death
This intense description of an acid trip could also be referred to as ‘ego death’. Ego death is usually caused by psychedelic experiences, and it describes when someone exists beyond the limits of the ego. The ego, in the sense of modern day society, is our own image of oneself. As previously mentioned, people look to social media as a way to express and judge their own self-worth. However, ego death destroys this idea, highlighting that we are all one and the same – consciousness is a universal thing. Revitalising Infusions explains why people are striving for ego death through psychedelic trips:
“According to new scientific research, these experiences can have a powerful and positive effect on mental health. In a recent study on ego dissolution… people who scored higher on ego dissolution tended to be more positive and have a better outlook on their life after the experience.”
Psychedelics being used to open people’s minds to the beauty of the universe and the unity of all people is nothing new. Rastafarians often use THC in their religious rituals to bring a sense of ceremonial togetherness. In addition, people travel all the way to South America to experience Ayahuasca trips to bring back meaning to their life. In fact, Pink Floyd were known to take LSD and many believe that their Dark Side of the Moon album was heavily inspired by the drug. In addition, the Beatles, too, were known to take LSD and it’s evident that this substance had huge inspirations over their music.
However, what’s especially interesting about the four Liverpool lads, is that after their dip into the world of psychedelics ended, they decided to chance their arm at transcendental meditation. The band was searching for more and, much like psychedelics, meditation allowed them to be free of man-made structures and see society on a different plane. This is a great example of those who were evidently using psychedelic drugs to quell their desire for real meaning.
The National Institute of Drug Abuse found that 7.1 million Americans over the age of 12 are reported to have used psychedelic drugs in the year 2020. As you can clearly see, recreational use of hallucinogens is happening and perhaps the reason for this is this dogged search for meaning. However, it’s not just happening recreationally, the use of psychedelic drugs in medicine is also being rethought and changed. The NCBI states:
“In clinical research settings around the world, renewed investigations are taking place on the use of psychedelic substances for treating illnesses such as addiction, depression, anxiety and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).”
Psilocybin, the psychedelic substance within magic mushrooms, is now being used in the US and UK to treat depression and other mental health issues. The state of Oregon actually decriminalised it in 2020. Whilst it’s early days, there is clear proof that even the medical establishment are starting to accept the benefits of hallucinogens. Whilst in the 60s and 70s psychedelic drugs were demonized and vilified for being a part of a – so called – disrupting counterculture, the world is now beginning to accept them. Michael Pollan says:
“Now the pendulum is swinging back, and the interest in their usefulness as a tool to help treat a variety of psychiatric conditions is rapidly growing”
The use of psychedelic drugs should not be simplified and reduced to pointless, recreational abuse. This is not always the case, and far from it. Psychedelic drugs are a part of something deeper, something ingrained into modern society: a search for more. A search for meaning. And, in this mundane, social-media dominated world we live in, it’s no surprise that people are turning to anything and everything to sprinkle meaning into their lives. Just like the Beatles, just like Pink Floyd, and just like many ancient cultures before us, people of today are using psychedelic drugs to explore a world beyond social structures. In fact, even medical practises are now beginning to trust and accept the wonders of hallucinogens to treat mental health issues. The psychedelic renaissance is truly here.
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Disclaimer: Hi, I’m a researcher and writer. I’m not a doctor, lawyer, or businessperson. All information in my articles is sourced and referenced, and all opinions stated are mine. I am not giving anyone advice, and though I am more than happy to discuss topics. Should someone have a further question or concern, they should seek guidance from a relevant professional.