Updated: Apr 14
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You can watch the video version of this article on Donca Vianu’s Youtube channel. To do so, please click here.
In order to better understand the pitfalls, it is important to know the main effects psychedelics may have on you:
One: Psychedelics amplify and magnify whatever is in your mind, either conscious, unconscious, recent, or from the past;
Two: Psychedelics amplify and magnify whatever is in your mind, either conscious, unconscious, recent, or from the past
These effects permeate in different degrees all psychedelic experiences. Below are some of the main pitfalls that can occur in a psychedelic experience:
1. Do not believe everything you experience under the influence of a psychedelic, you can be led astray by your own desire and/or conviction, while you erroneously attribute what you experience to a higher source.
Example 1 - A lady who was in therapy with me was enthralled by a shaman in Peru about whom she had read a book. During an Ayahuasca ceremony Ayahuasca allegedly approved of her wish to travel to Peru to apprentice with this shaman. The days afterward she contacted the shaman, researched dates, flights, and prices. Soon afterward she participated in another Ayahuasca ceremony. In this ceremony, she remembered / Ayahuasca reminded her of an episode in the book which she had previously overlooked. It pointed to a lack of integrity in this shaman. She understood that a journey to Peru to meet him would be a disaster.
Example 2 - A couple embroiled in matrimonial struggles came to see me. The woman had fallen in love with the man when Ayahuasca showed her who he is under his social persona: a reincarnation of a great warrior in the history of the Netherlands.
I almost fell from my chair hearing this. In my perception, she was strong and overbearing, and he was weak, insecure, avoidant. She had pursued him vigorously until reluctantly, he proposed. The more I listened to them, the more they appeared to me as mother and child, and not as a couple. At a certain moment, I asked him: “Forget that you are thirty-nine, how old is the one who proposed?” to which he spontaneously answered: “Nine.”
The reincarnation of the great warrior was now an emotionally anxious boy of nine, clinging to his mother figure and at the same time sabotaging and evading her. The inner woman in this woman longed for a strong man, but her dominating inner man could not allow any strong man in her life. See in this context my video on “The Inner Couple.”
Example 3 A woman came to me with the request to help her to accept her fate, as Ayahuasca had shown it to her. Her fate was to have a very unhappy marriage to a Peruvian man whom she will meet soon, with whom she will migrate to Peru, but who will cheat on her and eventually desert her and their children. She had cried bitterly during the whole ceremony, and she cried again in my office. Well, we talked, and she realized that this was her own belief, that she does not deserve a happy marriage.
A maladaptive belief or desire can be reinforced, leading from inadequate to antisocial behavior.
Example 4 A man embroiled in a conflict with his neighbors, consumed by a desire to take revenge, after a psychedelic ceremony in which Ayahuasca allegedly conveyed to him that he is right, destroyed the flower - and vegetable garden of his neighbors.
2. On psychedelic journeys, it can occur that all your identifications are stripped away, the so-called Ego-dissolution. Do not assume that you are enlightened after such an experience. You will wind up with the opposite: Ego-inflation, a delusion about your spiritual status, deemed high.
Example 1 - encountered such a person, who told me in length how he had left his Ego behind and consolidated his high state of Enlightenment with the help of a psychedelic integration therapist who likewise had left his Ego behind during a psychedelic trip. Now both of them, enlightened beings, have as a mission to help as many people as possible to attain with psychedelics Enlightenment as well. He told me how many people they have already helped and how much they have already earned.
Be suspicious not only if you think that you are enlightened, but also if you think that you have reached a high spiritual status. This is called “spiritual bypassing” and serves the opposite, to avoid whatever you should look into.
3. During a psychedelic journey, your inner demons may surface your jealousy, aggression, hostility, greed, lust, mistrust. Do not believe that you are right because under the psychedelic influence you experience that this is the Truth. Do not believe that you have a license to spread hatred, conflict, division because under the psychedelic influence a higher power allegedly justified your hatred and allegedly allowed you to even act out your hatred.
All these are aspects of your personality, they show up in order to be transformed, not to be acted upon. If you do not grasp this, this negativity can be amplified and deeper entrenched, resulting in an increase in social dysfunction, in mental rigidity instead of mental flexibility, and in dysfunctional behavior. Recent history gives examples of unleashed hatred amplified through social media creating social disruption and social division.
The inner demons can also appear in an extremely frightening symbolic form. It takes then very skilled integration work to understand what the symbols mean, and what the connection is with oneself.
Example 1 - A man came to me because of a haunting nightmarish psychedelic journey. It took us half a year to decipher that what he had experienced was his diffuse envy towards more successful colleagues and a predatory streak of his sexuality. Both were deep buried in his unconscious. They contradicted the image he had of himself as being only kind, generous and chivalrous.
Example 2 - I have witnessed a participant become extremely suspicious of her neighbor during a psychedelic ceremony, being convinced that he has been sent by the Devil himself to sit next to her, and whisper into her ear abject things. Her neighbor, oblivious of what was going on with her, noticing her agitation, tried to comfort her, which made her screen at him and try to hit him. She had to be taken out of the ceremony and looked after.
I witnessed situations in ceremonies with extreme aggression unleashed, very difficult to control, disrupting for the other participants their journey.
3. You may have a tendency to see things either black or white, either good or bad, with little in between; this makes you prone to join a cult or to follow indiscriminately a leader; you may have a tendency to look for patterns, which in itself is a creative endeavor, yet it can flip you towards figments you take for insights; under the psychedelic influence, the confluence of these traits can make you succumb to weird convictions and conspiracies, feel attracted to toxic subcultures, behave erratically, feel entitled and/or victimized. You may put in motion a true downward spiral.
4. Do not harm yourself, no matter what you are experiencing.
Example 1 - A young man I knew well needed a short hospitalization because he had run amok after a ceremony. He told me that during his barefoot (he had abandoned his shoes somewhere) and aimless wandering, under the influence of voices he was hearing, he hit his head against walls, until he saw blood, and he did more self-harming deeds.
The voices occurred only once in his life, during and after the ceremony.
5. Be aware that you can beforehand expose yourself to harm.
The setting can be not safe:
A) due to your own misjudgment
Example 1 - A young couple took a psychedelic late night on a quiet beach. Yet two hours later, at dawn, the beach was stormed by a group of rowdy young men who came for an early morning swim. The couple, especially the woman, was terrified and suffered from anxiety and nightmares many months afterward.
B) If you plan to do a ceremony with a group under guidance, the setting can be not safe due to misleading information
Example 1 - the leader of the group may have the malignant intention of sexual exploitation, mind manipulation, or mind control. We have examples of sexual misconduct, predatory behavior, and mind manipulation by so-called shamans in South America, but also so-called western shamans and guides.
6. You may get possessed by a power designated in indigenous cultures as a spirit. These powers or spirits have no place in our Western cultural paradigm. Yet for people who experience a spirit, it is very real. This can be a terrifying experience. You can have severe physical side effects, even death.
We will talk more about the importance of preparation, intention, setting, integration of a psychedelic experience in other articles. Make sure to check out those in case you consider embarking on this type of journey.
Donca Vianu is a psychiatrist and psychotherapist. She offers individual counseling and guidance for integration processes. You can follow her work through her Youtube channel and watch the video version of this article here.