Meditation and Psychedelics: A Match Made in Heaven?
Updated: Mar 3, 2021
Disclaimer: No part of this article is to be taken as advice for substance use or dosage recommendation. If you personally intend to consume any of these substances, it is up to you to do your own research beyond the restraints of this article and to practice standard harm-reduction procedure.
Studies around the beneficial effects of meditation and psychedelics have seen impressive developments in the last few years. At first, they seem to come from entirely separate worlds. However, there is some intriguing evidence of overlaps between them. You might even say that they are a match made in heaven, as meditation and psychedelics can augment and enhance one another.
In your search for self-transcendence and personal change, you can choose meditation and/or psychedelics to access higher states of consciousness. But what meditation takes countless hours of practice and a deep inner focus to achieve, psychedelics can offer transcendence on demand. The hallucinogenic journeys with vivid, and sometimes chaotic, visionary experiences, slingshot the user into higher states almost instantly. Hence, some consider psychedelics a shortcut to the insights that can be reached through meditation.
Proven Benefits of Meditation
Meditation has been around for thousands of years, but it wasn’t until the mid-20th century
that it started to gain popularity in the West. In 1979, Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn rebranded the ancient practice ‘mindfulness’, a secular term that was not challenging to western religions. With his Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program, the American scientist was the first to apply the basic principles of mindfulness meditation in a medical research setting. The eight-week training proved effective, relieving stress, anxiety, and pain in chronic pain patients.
Many studies conducted after that continue to prove the countless beneficial effects of meditation. Lowered heart rates, higher self-esteem, improvements in concentration, better sleep - just to name a few - and even the treatment of depression. The higher states of consciousness you can achieve through meditation seems to perform miracles.
But what happens when you add psychedelics to the mix?
Default Mode Network: Decrease Your Inner Voice
Just like meditation, psychedelics have been around for thousands of years. They gained popularity in the West halfway through the 20th century, piquing the interest of scientists, researchers, and therapists.
In 2012 a team of researchers from Imperial College London was the first to study the effects of psilocybin on the brain using advanced brain-scanning technology. They were surprised to discover that psilocybin appeared to reduce activity in key regions of the brain, particularly in the Default Mode Network (DMN).
The DMN controls your sense of self and identity. It is where you reflect on yourself, worry, and daydream. It is active when you are awake and have no mental task to perform. People with an overactive DMN often suffer from depression as they get caught up in their recurring negative thoughts. And guess what? If you reduce the activity in the DMN, you decrease your inner voice, which can bring higher states of consciousness.
Increased Intensity of Self-Transcendence
In this context, researchers from the University of Zurich measured the effects of meditation combined with psychedelics in a double-blind study. A group of 39 experienced meditators
participated in a mindfulness retreat, receiving either a single dose of psilocybin or a
They found that the combination of psilocybin and meditation increased meditation depth and balanced the anxiety for potential negative effects of the psychedelic experience – notoriously known as ‘bad trip’. Compared to the placebo group, meditators on the single dose of psilocybin significantly increased the occurrence and intensity of self-transcendence during meditation.
Changes in Attitudes and Behavior
The results also showed that mindfulness meditation improves the positive long-
term effects of a single dose of psilocybin. Four months after the mindfulness retreat, the psilocybin group showed a much higher score in changes in attitudes and behavior compared to the placebo group. These changes included more self-acceptance and empathy, improved psychological functioning, and a higher appreciation of life and death.
The findings of all this research demonstrate that a meditation practice with psychedelics can inform, augment, and enhance one another. A powerful combination that could be used to treat people who suffer from depression, anxiety, PTSD, and chronic pain, but could be helpful for healthy people too.
So how could you incorporate meditation with psychedelics?
Accelerate the Realisation of a Meditative State
A simple way to meditate is to bring your awareness to your physical sensations. The warmth of your hands in your lap, the weight of your body on the meditation cushion, the fabric of your clothing on our skin, the flow of your breath. Psychedelics are able to enhance these sensations and help deepen a meditative state. It is advisable to start with a small dose or microdose - as opposed to a full-blown hallucinogenic journey, which will have a very different outcome.
Acknowledge Thoughts Without Trying to Control Them
It can also be beneficial to include meditation during a psychedelic session. The practice of noticing and acknowledging your thoughts without trying to stop or control them can provide clarity and feelings of safety while experiencing an altered state of consciousness.
However, it is important to remember that meditation is a practice: it takes time to do it well. If you are trying to meditate for the first time while on a hallucinogenic journey, you may not be able to experience its benefits, which could be a frustrating or even negative experience for you.
Meditation for Psychedelic Integration
Last but not least, meditation is an excellent tool to help with integrating a psychedelic experience. Michael Pollan, author of How to Change Your Mind: The New Science of Psychedelics wrote, “For me, the psychedelic experience opened a door to a specific mode of consciousness that I can now occasionally recapture in meditation”.
There are even meditations specifically designed to support people who want to revisit and work on their psychedelic experiences. During your meditation practice, you can focus on the insights gleaned from your experience, and find ways to deepen your understanding and implement positive changes in your life.
Close Your Eyes, Take a Deep Breath, and Relax
If you are thinking of incorporating psychedelics into your meditation practice, or use meditation in your psychedelic journey, it is important to proceed with caution. Many psychedelics are still illegal in most countries, and science is only at the beginning of their knowledge. Do your research beforehand, and always check with your doctor for any medical contraindications.
However, even without psychedelics, you can still reap the rewards of a daily meditation practice. You can do it anywhere, anytime, and it is completely safe and legal. Just find a comfortable seat without any distractions. You can put on some low-key music to help focus your attention. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and relax.
Have you tried incorporating psychedelics into your meditation practice, or used meditation in your psychedelic journey? Leave your comment below; we would love to hear your experiences!