Meditating on Psychedelics : What Camp Are You In?

by Vincent Horn

In the Meditating on Psychedelics podcast series my intention is to gain a deeper understanding of the relative merits and dangers of the mixing Buddhist contemplative practice and ritualized psychedelic use. In order to do this, I’ve found it necessary to first get clear on the scope of this exploration. In other words, what does this exploration include and what does it exclude?

To even begin to answer this question, it required that I have a way of thinking about the basic topography of this territory. As I looked around, I started to formulate a simple orienting framework to describe how people already tend to relate to this potential coming together.

What Camp Are You In?

Now, this model isn’t meant to be exhaustive, complete, or academic in its thoroughness. Rather, it’s meant to serve as a simple way to orient the exploration so that it can move forward.

These are the 5 camps I identified and their typical response to the question of whether or not one should consider using psychedelics alongside Buddhist practice:

The Anti-Psychedelic Puritans: “Absolutely Not”

The Anti-psychedelic Puritan camp holds that psychedelic usage is dumb, harmful, and should be avoided always and at all costs. Folks in this camp may express the opinion that psychedelic usage has nothing whatsoever to do with Buddhist practice, is a distraction, or worse yet will seriously fuck you up.

This camp is also, consequently, the current law of the land virtually everywhere. In the United States there are 48 psychedelic substances (including Marijuana, LSD, DMT, Psilocybin, Peyote, & MDMA) which are classified as Schedule 1 drugs. The criterion for these substances are described as such:

  • The drug or other substance has a high potential for abuse.
  • The drug or other substance has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.
  • There is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision.

The Anti-Psychedelic Puritans are currently the ones in charge.

The Tolerant Buddhists: “Maybe, But”

The Tolerant Buddhists are the folks who recognize that psychedelics aren’t all bad, and that they have something to offer to some people some of the time. They say “maybe, but” because while they see that psychedelics may be helpful they also think they can be harmful and that they’re more of a gateway toward interesting things, like meditation practice, than an ultimate end point.

Many Tolerant Buddhists are part of the hippie generation. That generation that went to Asia in droves during the 60s & 70s, and trained with Asian meditation teachers & gurus. Many of these same young hippies also experimented, at one time or another, with psychedelic compounds. They often openly attribute their initial interest in spiritual practice to the experiences they had while on these substances. For them, psychedelics served as a gateway to serious contemplative practice, but then became a less important part of their journey. They became Tolerant Buddhists.

The Psychedelic Buddhists: “Yes, And”

A “Psychedelic Buddhist” — a coin termed by scholar Douglas Osto — goes further than the Tolerant Buddhist in terms of their appraisal of the potential benefits of mixing ritual psychedelic use with Buddhist practice. Psychedelic Buddhists hold that meditation practice & psychedelics can inform, augment, & enhance one another.

Psychedelic Buddhists say “yes” to the mixing of the two “and” at the same time acknowledge that there are downsides, things to watch out for, and much that is still not well understood about the pairing. At the same time they believe it’s possible to meld them into a workable hybrid. For the most part, I tend to fall into this camp.

The Psychedelic Evangelists: “Absolutely Yes”

Psychedelic Evangelists claim that psychedelic use is categorically good for everyone. They hold that virtually everyone could benefit in some shape or form by experimenting, in the correct way, with psychedelics. They may refer to these substances primarily, or solely, as medicines. Their views are diametrically opposed to the anti-psychedelic puritans and they tend to be the most fervent activists and supporters of the medical and recreational legalization of these substances.

The Psychedelic Agnostics: “Don’t Know”

The Psychedelic Agnostics doesn’t take a position on whether, or how, psychedelics and Buddhist practice mix. People in this camp “don’t know”, perhaps because they haven’t considered the question much, or because they don’t feel they have enough information to take a stand.

It’s also possible that someone in this camp could be deeply invested in this question and yet still not know. If we look at this camp, not just as positions that people take, but also states of mind & thoughts that people move through. Many of us have moments of being agnostic.

An Unscientific Poll

Upon sharing this model, we conducted a little twitter poll to see where our twitter followers fell. We didn’t include the agnostic camp, simply because twitter limits their polls to 4 responses. Here are the results (so far):

How This Framework is Being Used

As I mentioned at the beginning I’m using this framework to help orient the exploration during the Meditating on Psychedelics series. I’ve decided to keep this series focused exclusively on 2 of these 5 camps: The Tolerant Buddhists & The Psychedelic Buddhists. If you’re interested in hearing more about the reasons for that listen to the opening podcast in the series: Meditating on Psychedelics and follow along with the series! It’s guaranteed to get trippy! 😜