This is Part 2. To first read Part 1, click here.
Before I dive into concerns about the safety of psychedelics, I would like to share one more profoundly meaningful experience from my journey.
It was about 1 or 2 AM, the last two hours of of my journey. I sat by the fire with my 3-D glasses and gazed at the Big Bang. A song in the background triggered an image of my dad. Enamored with the present moment, unencumbered by regrets or concerns and suffused with a sense of wonder and empathy, this single thought of my dad was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Tears of appreciation arrived unannounced and decades of unexpressed gratitude disgorged from my nose.
I opened my journal with an intention to put these thoughts to paper. I rested my hand on the paper. A multitude of thoughts presented themselves all at once. My retarded hand reacted too slowly to capture a single thought. I resolved to draw a picture of my dad. I started with his eyes. I could only manage one or two lines per eye, an L for his nose and two thin lines for his mouth.
I glanced up and followed a piece of ash that floated in the air and come to rest on my drawing, on his forehead on the position of the “third eye”. I was struck by the impermanence of this moment and that soon this ash petal will disappear. I quickly drew a circle around it. I surrendered to the waves of emotions and inadvertently exhaled, with a little too much force and watched as the air lifted the ash petal from the page and it flew away.
Many people approach the psychedelic experience with a superstitious framing and easily draw apocryphal conclusions about the mind and reality. But my intention, going into the experience, was not to call upon the wisdom of the ancient fungi to extricate myself from negative and oppressive narratives, nor to gain insight into my life’s purpose, but merely to better understand the nature of consciousness.
My theory is that the better my understanding of how the mind perceives and processes the data that streams in through my senses, the better I will be able to distinguish fact from fiction and reality from delusion.
My desire is not only to live a meaningful life, but to live in truth. I prefer a harsh reality to a deluded utopia. If I know the truth I can learn to face it with grace and equanimity. If I live in delusion, every time reality thwarts my expectation, I am back to square one.
But is it safe?
If you are unfamiliar with psychedelics, or if you are old enough to have lived through the sixties, you might be quick to defenestrate psychedelics as yet another recreational drug like heroin or cocaine implicated in a multitude of mental disorders. But I encourage you not to make the same mistake as President Nixon, some 50 years ago, when he erroneously declared psychedelics to be of “no medical use.”
Since the 90s dozens of studies using psychedelic compounds have been completed and are underway. A series of studies on terminally ill cancer patients at Johns Hopkins (considered the premier medical center in the U.S.) and N.Y.U. reported that “80 percent of the Hopkins volunteers had clinically significant reductions in standard measurements of depression and anxiety, improvements that endured for at least six months.” 
If you are concerned that you might become addicted, don’t.
Firstly, the experience is so overwhelming that you are not likely to be ready to do it again any time soon. Secondly, there is no evidence that these psychedelic compounds are neurotoxic or that repeated use will lead to drug dependence. Indeed, evidence shows that physiologically, you are at greater risk of addiction to caffeine or alcohol, than to LSD (acid) or Psilocybin. [See Fig 1 below.]
“In 2007, the Minister of Health of the Netherlands… concluded that the physical and psychological dependence potential of magic mushrooms was low, that acute toxicity was moderate, chronic toxicity low and public health and criminal aspects negligible.” [2 - Pubmed]
In a study of healthy subjects, the team concluded, “Our study provided no cause for concern that Psilocybin is hazardous with respect to somatic health.” (somatic - relating to the body, especially as distinct from the mind.) [3 - Journal of Psychopharmacology]
In a Johns Hopkins survey study of almost 2,000 participants who reported [emotionally] 'bad' trips in the past, only “2.6 percent said they acted aggressively or violently [during their bad trips], and 2.7 percent said they sought medical help… However, six people reported that their suicidal thoughts [that they have in everyday life] disappeared after their experience on their worst bad trip.” [4 - Journal of Psychopharmacology.]
We all know that our most challenging experiences, in retrospect, often turned out to be our most meaningful teachers, didn’t they?
A recent study, also published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, showed that “a single dose of psilocybin produced substantial and enduring decreases in depressed mood and anxiety along with increases in quality of life and decreases in death anxiety in patients with a life-threatening cancer diagnosis.” [5 - Journal of Psychopharmacology]
Despite the overwhelmingly positive prospects for human well-being offered by the fungi, I am definitely not recommending that anyone take an illegal substance for recreational use. Everyone must take responsibility for their own mind.
Why alter consciousness?
Hypothetically speaking, if you can alter consciousness safely and temporarily, then you are offered a powerful tool to sample a different way of looking at the world. Retrospectively, you will be able to compare the altered state of consciousness with your default state and gain an invaluable, unique perspective on what it is like to be you.
As I will explain next week, the levers that the mushrooms pull in the brain, just so happen to be the profoundly significant processes that are associated with our sense of self and the ego. This means that the compound offers you an opportunity to look at the world, in a fundamentally self-less way, where the ego remains “offline” and ineffectual.
If the sense of self dissolves and you experience, what is often referred to as an "ego-death", then you are effectively rehearsing your own death. If you are not emotionally ready for this rehearsal, then it could be a destabilizing experience. Albeit just the one you need.