Introduction

Psychedelic experiences involve users ingesting a psychedelic substance and undergoing an experience where altered states of consciousness, intense emotions, and even mystical experiences are common. 

LSD in blotter form
Psilocybin mushrooms,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This study focused on LSD in blotter form and psilocybin mushrooms, as illustrated above.

Scientists have recently begun to understand how psychedelics affect us, especially our brain, and how such a seemingly short experience (between 6-12 hours usually) can have lasting implications as reported by healthline.com

One could write an entire article and still not correctly explain the above. However, sometimes a picture speaks more than 1000 words; hence this image of brain interconnectivity on psilocybin (active ingredient in magic mushrooms) compared to placebo can help illuminate these effects further:

 

Image credit to the Beckley Foundation

 

In this short blog post, I will be reporting the principal elements and findings of my MSc research on the transformative effects and integration challenges of psychedelic experiences for the Romanian population. 

The research topic is close to my heart as I underwent powerful transformative experiences with psychedelics; however, I also had difficulties in integrating the insights and the experience into daily life, especially in Romania. My own experiences, coupled with the lack of empirical research on psychedelic experiences in Romania, determined me to undergo a mixed-method research project as part of my MSc dissertation.

The objective of my research was to determine what fosters transformation during and after a psychedelic experience, what these transformations are, and what potential integration challenges arise. 

Method

Due to limited mixed-method research in psychedelics, combining qualitative and quantitative methods, this research was done with six in-depth interviews with participants to which a nationwide survey was added that received 39 responses, thus combining qualitative and quantitative approaches. Inspiration for the quantitative element came from one of the landmark studies on transformative effects of psychedelic experiences performed by Roland Griffiths at John Hopkins, particularly in the form of the Persistent Effects Questionnaire (PEQ).  

For those interested in finding out more about that study, here is a link to a recent podcast with Griffiths and Jordan Peterson on the Psychology of Psychedelics. The qualitative data analysis of the interview scripts was done in accordance to Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA). 

The main results in a nutshell  

Below you can glance at the main findings of this study together with some quotes from the participants that illustrate these results: 

  1. Changes in self-perception and understanding of self and world as a result of the psychedelic experience seem to be the triggers for the actual transformations in the participants’ lives.“LSD… that helped me sort of reconnect in a way to the possibility of envisioning and driving my own future and my own life…” (Alex).
  2. Transformations can be seen as lasting positive changes in attitude and behavior that span a wide range from embodied, emotional, and spiritual to interpersonal transformations.“I actually connected… for the first time, to a form of spirituality” (Roxana).
  3. There were both personal as well as interpersonal and cultural challenges to the integration process.“…I really have a good relationship with my parents, however, when it comes to communicating about my psychedelic experience, even if norrmaly I tell them what I struggle with, I just could not talk about it and that made the integration process more difficult” (Emilia).
    Implications of results

It is essential to understand what these findings mean and what implications they have. Firstly, when someone experiences what they believe to be their actual death or some very intense hardship, or when they have a profound realization on the nature of being, this tends to leave a powerful imprint on them. This imprint sticks beyond the experience and triggers a process of actual transformation in their lives. 

Getting a glimpse of the psychedelic “innerverse” can have profound transformative implications – image represents a person looking at an Alex Grey art piece

Secondly, it is interesting to notice a multitude of transformations. However, the most profound changes reported by all participants were related to spiritual transformation, especially opening up to spirituality. Another fundamental shift relates to the interpersonal realm and especially how participants sought deeper and more meaningful relationships with others after the experience. This opens up the possibility for psychedelics to be doorways for people to discover meaning in their lives, something much needed in our society today as highlighted in this article, The Crisis of Meaning, in Psychology Today.

Thirdly, the psychedelic experience may well be a viable seed of transformation. However, the integration of the experience into daily life is the nourishing soil needed for enduring development. The integration process, sustained by different integration practices such as yoga and meditation, comes with its challenges. Some of the challenges are personal, such as having difficulties in balancing inner and outer work, as some of the participants struggled with more mundane activities and placed more emphasis on inner work. Other challenges are interpersonal and cultural and relate to stigma, communication challenges and struggle for acceptance. 

The integration process and practices act as a nourishing soil for lasting transformation

 

Conclusion and future research opportunities 

Ultimately, the findings of this study need to be taken with due consideration to the relatively small sample and scope of the dissertation project. However, the results, especially in relation to the transformative effects, seem to be in line with other studies in the scientific literature as portrayed by Stanislav Grof. 

Since empirical research on this topic has not been attempted in Romania, my study addresses a significant gap in the national literature. I had powerful and largely positive experiences with psychedelics, hence I must admit my bias on the topic. Some of the limitations of this study, besides my bias, would include the fact that participants with poor mental health were excluded from the study, something that could bring a positivity bias, together with the observation that it is sometimes challenging to separate transformations that came directly out of the psychedelic experience and those that arose from a multitude of other factors. 

To address some of the limitations and explore possible cultural differences in greater depth, a future piece of research could be a mixed-method cross-cultural study looking at whether or not there are significant cross-cultural differences in integration challenges. 

As seen in the image below, psychedelic research is becoming ever more popular and I would say that the results of my research warrant even more research into psychedelics, especially using mixed-method research. 

Further recommended reading and resources:

Grof, Stanislav (2019). The Way of the Psychonaut Volume One: Encyclopedia for Inner Journeys. Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies

Griffiths, R. R., Richards, W. A., McCann, U., & Jesse, R. (2006). Psilocybin can occasion mystical-type experiences having substantial and sustained personal meaning and spiritual significance. Psychopharmacology, 187(3), 268-283.

Sessa, B. (2012). The psychedelic renaissance: Reassessing the role of psychedelic drugs in 21st century psychiatry and society. Muswell Hill Press.

Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) 

Psychedelic experience integration workshops

Revealing the Mind: The Promise of Psychedelics. Video recording from the World Science Festival (2019) about psychedelics and their potential

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