The Aware Project believes...
.... in the value of curiosity. It is the quality that drives our species toward an ever greater understanding of our world and ourselves. When our curiosity breaks through our fear, we are able to the escape the pull of Earth’s gravity and explore the stars. Psychedelic compounds are tools that have roused both our curiosity and our fear. These compounds mimic our own dreams both in their ability to inspire but also to humble our fragile ego. The reintroduction of these powerful chemicals into Western cultures occurred in the mid-twentieth century, however, irresponsible usage and failure to integrate the experiences in a constructive and safe way, led to public abuse and political uneasiness, ending in criminalization. Like a lusty and poorly informed teenager exploring sex for the first time, we, as a culture, have made poor choices regarding our use of psychedelics, but we are maturing, learning how to educate ourselves, and making more informed and responsible decisions. It’s time to remove the shackles of ignorance and fear from our curiosity.
We believe that the way to neutralize fear is through spreading knowledge. Facing the darkness without a flashlight amplifies the fear, but equipped with the necessary tools, we can muster the courage and the spirit of exploration to embark into the unknown. Many of the reasons why the use of psychedelics in the mid-20th century played such a chaotic role was because those who used them were not equipped with the knowledge or understanding of their power. Just as a kitchen knife can be used by a skilled chef to make a gourmet meal, in the hands of a child, it can be dangerous to the child and others. The best way to prevent harm is not to pretend that knives don’t exist, but to teach the child slowly how to use them. In the same way, creating a prohibition on psychedelics does not squash the curiosity once and for all, but sets up a system of misinformation and an irresistible attraction towards what is now taboo. Psychedelics can not be eradicated, because they inspire curiosity, one of our core human qualities. We see the only viable solution is to learn how to work with them. And the only way to learn how to safely and effectively work with them is to study them and build our knowledge.
Psychedelics have created significant impacts on humanity going back in time. For thousands of years, civilizations all over the world have used them in spiritual contexts to induce direct mystical experiences and to access different levels of consciousness and perception (Samorini, 1992; Essential Substances by Richard Rudgley; Hallucinogens and Shamanism by Michael J. Harner). The reintroduction of these powerful chemicals into Western cultures occurred in the mid-twentieth century with contributions by Albert Hoffman with LSD, Aldous Huxley with mescaline, and Gordon Wasson with psilocybin mushrooms (more details here). The introduction of these chemicals into the field of psychotherapy in the early 20th century brought major advances in understanding of the mind and consciousness (see references here). Concomitantly, preliminary research showed that psychedelics enhanced rational problem solving in healthy professionals (Hartman et al., 1966; more references here). Contemporary clinical research using psychedelics-assisted therapy have shown advances in obsessive compulsive disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), alcoholism, depression, cancer, and cluster headaches (overview). Mainstream media has begun to pick up on recent progress in modern clinical research using psychedelics (CNN, The New Yorker). How can any rational individual look at these data and not feel that it warrants further investigation?
The other side of the psychedelic impact on health is its effect on the human spirit and quality of life. One need only do a Google image search on “psychedelic art” or “visionary art” to see the effect psychedelics have on creativity and artistic expression. And it can not be ignored that the use of psychedelics often leads Westerners to a more Eastern approach to spirituality (i.e. Ram Dass). Bill Wilson, the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, believed that the spiritual experiences common with the use of LSD could be the foundation to a sober life (ref). If the use of psychedelics can allow humans to feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves and deepen their desire to become better people, then for the sake of our very existence, we believe it is worth exploring how we can safely and responsibly allow that to happen.
The Aware Project wants to balance the conversation about psychedelics. In the last few decades, the dominate voices in the global conversation on psychedelics have been those that have never experienced them. We see psychedelics as being an important and powerful tool to solve global problems in novel ways and heal the human body and mind on an individual level. Right now there are very few resources being applied to study these substances, retarding further advances, and causing a dangerously misinformed and uneducated public. Let’s make these substances available to researchers so that we can understand how to create safety protocols and allow counselors to create contexts for meaningful experiences and effective integration.
How are we going to get there?
The transition from fear to curiosity will come through balancing the conversation about psychedelics. When we think about how the transition will take shape we can look at the LGBTQ community as a comparable example. As more people ‘came out of the closet’, the more homosexuality was a topic of everyday conversation thus demanding that people reassess their views. Furthermore, the rapid changes in the public’s view of medical marijuana adds credence to this parallel and we think that the time is ripe to engage the psychedelic conversation again. Most of people’s opinions are based in an emotional place, and because there is so much emotion surrounding this topic we think this shift in perspective will grow on an individual by individual basis. We’ve found that an effect way to communicate with people about such a controversial topic is to address technical concerns first with science-based facts after which the conversation can then begin to address the emotional-based view point. This is where personal relationships and credible accounts come in. When psychedelic users can talk about their experiences from an open and vulnerable place, without preaching, others can observe the actual impacts. Combining both quantitative and qualitative evidence turns the dry facts into a human experience that more people can related to. We are spreading this type of communication by educating existing psychedelic users about scientific research, safe and mindful use, and communication skills. Many people do not know how to engage others about such a controversial topic in order to ‘come out of the closet’ in an effective way. The second prong of The Aware Project’s approach is to disseminate the potential benefits of psychedelic use to the public through talks and awareness campaigns that spark conversation and curiosity.
Humanity has just scratched the surface of what we can learn from psychedelics. Let us step forward, away from our fear and cautiously into curiosity so that we can continue to learn, grow, and heal.
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