Searching for Higher Meaning with Drugs?

In 1967 Timothy Leary advised the human race to turn on, tune in, drop out. This was at the peak of the hippie era and he was advocating that people use psychedelic drugs to transcend normal existence. Many followed his advice and the common belief among these LSD users was that they were entering a state where they could develop important spiritual insights. 

It is this search for meaning that continues to motivate people to use drugs as a means to connect with the divine. The problem is that this use of drugs can also begin to negatively impact the individual’s life – it may cause severe damage to their mental or physical health. These dangers can be eliminated by using more natural methods, such as meditation, to achieve higher mental states.

Carlos Castaneda and Don Juan

Carlos Castaneda was an anthropologist who helped promote the idea of using drugs as a spiritual tool. His book The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge describes his experiences with Mexican shaman known as Don Juan Matus. This spiritual guide introduced Castaneda to a psychedelic drug derived from the peyote plant. In his first book (and the books that followed) he described spiritual experiences and claimed to develop magical powers such as shape shifting. 

Castaneda’s books were hugely popular in the late sixties and seventies and he sold over 8 million copies. His critics question the veracity of many of his claims – there are even some who would say that he made the whole thing up. There is little doubt that the tales of Don Juan has encouraged many people to experiment with mind altering drugs. 

Bill W. and LSD

Bill Wilson was the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. After being sober for almost two decades he began to experiment with LSD. His goal was to reach spiritual states and develop a closer contact with God. Bill was impressed with the results and he continued to experiment with LSD for many years. 

He believed that drugs worked by damping down the ego which facilitated better contact with the higher power. It is even claimed that he wanted LSD to be handed out at AA meetings. 

Drugs That Can Induce Spiritual Experiences

There are a number of drugs that are said to induce spiritual experiences including:

  • LSD
  • Peyote
  • Ayahuasca
  • Psilocybin (magic mushrooms)
  • Ecstasy
  • Marijuana
  • Ayahuasca Tourism

A growing number of people are travelling to places such as the Amazon in order to achieve spiritual states using drugs.

The most popular form of this type of tourism involves use of Ayahuasca which contains dimethyltryptamine (DMT). It has traditionally been used by shamans as part of their religious rites. It continues to be legal for these groups to use this drug in some parts of the world. 
Ayahuasca Tourism involves travelling to these areas and spending time with the shaman. The goal is that people experience the power of Ayahuasca in a controlled environment and as part of a religious ceremony. There is usually a good deal of preparation before the tourist is allowed to consume the special brew made from the Ayahuasca.

Seeking Meaning in Recovery

One of the key elements in building a successful recovery away from addiction is to find meaning and purpose in life. For many people this means following a spiritual path where the goal is develop a strong connection with a higher power. The spiritual path is not always an easy one to follow and people can be tempted to look for shortcuts. 
This means that they may be attracted to mind altering drugs as a means to achieve transcendence. Given the history of such individuals it may not be a good idea to once again turn to chemicals to find the answers. There is just too much risk that this could lead them back to substance abuse. The individual will have already tried to fix their problems with drugs and the fact that they ended up in recovery means that it didn’t work. It is good that they are seeking meaning in recovery, but it is better to stick to the well trodden route of sobriety. 

Dangers of Drug Induced Spiritual Experience

It is not recommended that people use drugs to create spiritual experiences. This advice is particularly pertinent to those who are recovering from any type of addiction:
  • These drugs are a short-cut to spiritual experiences. The problem with taking a short cut is that it can allow the individual to experience things that they are not prepared for and some individuals will react badly.
  • Those people who are not prepared for drug induced spiritual experiences may develop mental health problems. There are many examples of people who become delusional after using these drugs.
  • Some people will experience bad trips and these can be terrifying.
  • Some people can trigger an underlying mental health problem when they use these mind altering chemicals.
  • While most of these substances are not particularly addictive it may still be a bad idea for people in recovery to experiment with them. The goal of sobriety should be to deal with life on life’s terms and there are plenty of non-chemical ways to enjoy spiritual highs.
  • These drugs are illegal in many jurisdictions. There can be serious consequences if people are caught with these substances.
  • The individual will have a significantly reduced ability to make good decisions after taking these drugs. This means that they will be at an increased risk of relapse.

Natural Methods for Spiritual Experiences

The risks associated with drug induced spiritual experiences are too great so it is advisable that people use natural method to achieve such states. There is no spiritual experience that is produced by drugs that can’t be induced naturally. 
The problem that most people have with following a natural method is that it takes a good deal of time and energy. This is actually beneficial though, because it ensures that the individual is more ready for these experiences when they happen. 
Some natural methods that can be used for achieving spiritual states include:
  • Meditation has been used for thousands of years as a tool to bring humans closer to the divine. There is no doubt that this path can take the spiritual seeker where they want to go so long as they are steadfast and persistent.
  • Prayer can be another way to experience transcendence. This is because it is possible for people to slip into deep meditative states while they are praying.
  • There are claims that products such as binaural beats or hemi-sync can help people achieve similar states as those produced by drugs.
  • Spending time in nature is much neglected method for developing a deeper connection to a higher power. Many people who report spiritual experiences will claim that it happened to them while they were enjoying nature – even something as simple as starring at the stars.

The aim of the 12 Steps is to lead the individual towards a spiritual experience. This is made clear in final step which states, [‘having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs’].

Hope Trust’s treatment program is based on the 12 Steps and includes Yoga, meditation and the basic course of Art of Living.