The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide

The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide by James Fadiman outlines his experience with psychedelics and gives you a guideline on how to safely and effectively use them. It reviews old and new (up to 2011) research. The book can be a bit spiritual (read: less grounded in good research) sometimes and could have used some more editing. But nonetheless, it’s a great resource to learn more about psychedelics.

By ‘more editing’ I mean that the book consists of many chapters that are written by others. They are sometimes written specifically for the book, but change styles very often. There are also experiences from the psychedelic pioneers, which again read differently. And some research is being written about in detail, which is good, but makes it sometimes more long-winded than needed.

Publisher Summary

Called “America’s wisest and most respected authority on psychedelics and their use,” James Fadiman has been involved with psychedelic research since the 1960s. In this guide to the immediate and long-term effects of psychedelic use for spiritual (high dose), therapeutic (moderate dose), and problem-solving (low dose) purposes, Fadiman outlines best practices for safe, sacred entheogenic voyages learned through his more than 40 years of experience–from the benefits of having a sensitive guide during a session (and how to be one) to the importance of the setting and pre-session intention.

Fadiman reviews the newest as well as the neglected research into the psychotherapeutic value of visionary drug use for increased personal awareness and a host of serious medical conditions, including his recent study of the reasons for and results of psychedelic use among hundreds of students and professionals. He reveals new uses for LSD and other psychedelics, including extremely low doses for improved cognitive functioning and emotional balance. Cautioning that psychedelics are not for everyone, he dispels the myths and misperceptions about psychedelics circulating in textbooks and clinics as well as on the internet. Exploring the life-changing experiences of Ram Dass, Timothy Leary, Aldous Huxley, and Huston Smith as well as Francis Crick and Steve Jobs, Fadiman shows how psychedelics, used wisely, can lead not only to healing but also to scientific breakthroughs and spiritual epiphanies.

Summary Review

  • The book focuses on the beneficial use of psychedelics – LSD in particular
  • It’s about healing, personal exploration, spiritual journeys, and more
  • “In the future, there should be research and training centers for psychedelic experience that are safe and secure, with both secular and sacred settings to ensure adequate training for wise and compassionate use.”

Part One – Transcendent Experience Entheogenic Sessions

Chapter 1 – Meeting the Divine Within

  • The chapter starts with a description that a psychedelic experience with a guide (this is important) can be among the best experiences someone has (78% reported as such in a survey)
  • Fadiman talks about best practices for a guide and voyager (someone taking the psychedelic). These include the preparation, writing down what you experienced, your preconceptions and more

Chapter 2 – The Entheogenic Voyage

  • “LSD and other entheogens [psychedelics] have the capacity to open an infinite number of doors.”
  • Per blocks of 20-50 minutes, Fadiman describes what you can expect to happen, how to react, and what activities to undertake
  • He recommends taking at least 6 months between sessions

Chapter 3 – Qualities of Transcendent Experience

  • This chapter features an article by Alan Watts
  • In it he speaks about the slowing of time, becoming aware of the present moment (being aware)

Chapter 4 – Experiences of Psychedelic Pioneers

Part Two – Personal Growth And Self-Exploration in Psychedelic Sessions

Chapter 5 – Therapeutic Uses of Psychedelics

  • Whilst psychedelics showed a clear therapeutic benefit, the drug laws (war on drugs) did not accept this fact and banned just about all of them outright
  • Fadiman states that psychedelics can help both with 1) mental illness, and 2) physical disorders
  • He describes why this might be so, and also states that there is little research and consequences about procedures and expected outcomes (but do see later chapters on ideas about procedures)
  • The end of this chapter lists some other resources for a fuller understanding of psychedelic psychotherapy

Chapter 6 – Things Can Go Wrong

  • Chapter 6 features best practices as developed by Neal Goldsmith, from his book Psychedelic Healing
  • “If you know what you’re doing, if you’ve been careful in who you are with, if the setting is good, the substance is pure, and the preparation has been taken seriously, there is little chance of anything going wrong.”
  • There is a reference to ‘Working With Difficult Psychedelic Experiences‘ (old video from MAPS – someone please make a new version of this one)
  • And many other references to Erowid, MAPS, and quite some common sense advice

Chapter 7 – Myths and Misperceptions

  • Chapter 7 is another copy-paste, this time from Psychoactive Sacramentals
  • LSD seldom contain[s] adulterants and have never been found to contain strychnine”
  • Tatoo acid is also a figment of someone’s imagination
  • As is chromosomal breakage from LSD (that includes pregnant women, their kids will be fine)
  • If you don’t have severe preexisting psychopathology, and if the setting is right, there is almost no chance of things going wrong
  • “Human death from toxic pharmacologic effects of LSD has never been documented”
  • Flashbacks (hallucinogen persisting perceptual disorder) has also been hard to pin down and at most very rare
    • In Pihkal (chapter 13), the Shulgins also say they don’t have any experience with this (except ‘normal’ flashbacks, not related to psychedelics)

Chapter 8 – Therapeutic Effectiveness of Single Guided Sessions

  • This chapter describes a psychedelics protocol as used by Fadiman in a study
  • It includes preparation, a session, and multiple follow-up meetings and survey
  • One characteristic of the group (n=76) was that “they all were highly motivated to seek and attain self-knowledge and self-improvement”
  • Of the group a third were ‘healthy normals’ and the rest had some diagnoses (but nothing too severe)
  • 78 percent of the subjects called the experience ‘the greatest thing that ever happened to me'”
  • To combat a bias in pleasing the researchers, Fadiman also measured the actual behavior change of the participants
    • The categories of this behavior change (see page 111 in the paperback) range from Dreams, Personal Habits, Work, to Health, Religious Activities, and Sexual Patterns
  • It appears that behavior changes were real, observable, and pervasive and that most changes were improvements that reflected increased self-worth, reduced anxiety, and lessened feelings of inadequacy. In addition, the subjects formed deeper and more meaningful relationships.”
  • Fadiman describes psychedelics therapy as both short (and that is positive) and deep (touching someone to the core)

Part 3 – Enhanced Problem Solving in Focused Sessions

  • This part of the book is was differentiates it from most others that have written about psychedelics. Where most (research) focusses on (clinical) problems, this part focusses on how psychedelics can help with creativity and unlock new insights in this regard.
  • When participants can be induced to become absorbed in their intellectual concerns, they do not get caught up in self-exploration or self-transcendence.”
  • The next chapters describe the promising research (Harman et al, 1966) that was being done with LSD/mescaline for creativity

Chapter 9 – Breakthrough Research

  • The literature on the effects of psychedelic agents on performance is inconclusive or contradictory.” Even still to this day some aspects are highlighted as being enhanced, and others as being impaired
  • Fadiman has generally found positive effects, mostly where creativity and thinking about hard professional problems (e.g. architect, physicist) is needed
  • Psychedelics appear to temporarily inhibit censors that ordinarily limit what is available to conscious awareness.”
  • The participants in the creativity study were instructed on what to expect and how to focus on a problem
  • During the second half of the mescaline (200mg, equivalent to 100mg (low/medium dose) session they worked on their respective problems
  • Some subjective reports said the following:
    1. Low inhibition and anxiety
    2. Capacity to restructure problem in a larger context
    3. Enhanced fluency and flexibility of ideation
    4. Heightened capacity for visual imagery and fantasy
    5. Increased ability to concentrate
    6. Heightened empathy with external processes and objects
    7. Heightened empathy with people
    8. Subconscious data more accessible
    9. Association of dissimilar ideas
    10. Heightened motivation to obtain closure
    11. Visualizing the completed solution
  • After the session, about half of the participants saw a small improvement in their ability to do their job (half saw no change)
  • By establishing an anticipation of improved performance, we seemed to bring it about.”

Chapter 10 – Facilitation for Enhanced Problem Solving

  • This chapter is a short (non-complete) description of how to hold a session for problem-solving

Chapter 11 – Case Studies

  • Two architects and six other professionals had some good results with psychedelics for creativity and their case studies are described here

Chapter 12 – Group Problem-Solving Sessions

  • The group sessions described here were not that successful, but the information should give a first starting point for more research to be done
  • Chapter by Willis Harman
  • A final note stood out to me: “… many of the methods used to stimulate or increase creativity actually are ways to reduce ‘non-creativity’ instead and that normal awareness is far more fluid and flexible and innovative that it is given credit for.”

Chapter 13 – The Look Magazine Experiment

  • This is another excerpt from another book (Walking on The Edge of the World by George Leonard)
  • This excerpt describes an LSD experiment at the Look Magazine (only a few pages)

Chapter 14 – Closing the Doors of Perception

  • In 1966 there were 60 active projects ongoing with LSD
  • They were done with everyone from autistic children to alcoholics (which then showed promising results, and still do somewhat)
  • Here Fadiman makes a link between not the illegality of drugs, but their mind-opening capacity and how it was a threat for the government

Part Four – New Horizons

  • It’s here where we jump forward at least 4 decades
  • In this introduction he does make a link between ayahuasca and cancer (healing), I think that’s maybe not the most responsible thing to do

Chapter 15 – Can Sub-Perceptual Doses of Psychedelics Improve Normal Functioning?

  • Microdosing is described and the experiences of several people are relayed
  • Fadiman is generally very positive and describes several things multiple people have noticed
  • In this text, he also says a chemist friend argues that there is no tolerance (so you will have the same effect if you take it the next day)

Chapter 16 – Surveys of Current Users

  • Fadiman surveyed current users of psychedelics
  • This was mostly circulated amongst students
  • The top reasons for taking them were (in order): fun, self-healing, problem solving, exploration, mystical experience, music appreciation, spiritual experience, curiosity, sexual enhancement, social pressure
  • The rest of the chapter also describes a survey done amongst a more senior public of a conference organized by MAPS

Chapter 17 – The Inadvertent Pioneer

  • This chapter describes an interview Fadiman did about his early psychedelics experience (again excerpted from somewhere else, so also some overlapping info with what is already said in the book)
  • The title describes it well, he was an inadvertent pioneer

Chapter 18 – Positive Possibilities for Psychedelics

  • Fadiman sees the ice of the psychedelics winter slowly melting
  • The chapter highlights some research that is being done
  • And how decriminalization and legalization might bring about positive changes
  • Also see alas the specific page doesn’t work, so visit their homepage

Part Five – The Necessary, the Extraordinary, and Some Hard-Core Data

Chapter 19 – Entheogenic Journeys

  • “This checklist is designed to help the voyager and guide create the best possible opportunity for a voyager to have an intentional entheogenic session.”
  • The checklist highlights the steps before, during, after that the voyager (participant) and guide, or both together can take

Chapter 20 – Beyond LSD-Way Beyond

  • This chapter features stories around other psychedelic experiences, two with ayahuasca, the last one with total darkness (no drugs)

Chapter 21 – Behavioral Changes After Psychedelic Therapy

  • This chapter mirrors the research (and outcomes) as described in 8 and 16
  • The participants in the 1960s research (n=67) had many and generally positive outcomes

Chapter 22 – A Questionnaire Study of Psychedelic Experiences

  • This last chapter also relates more positive news as reported by participants in research (or similar controlled circumstances)
  • One good mental note to make is to think about the response bias (would the ones who didn’t benefit even return the survey?)

Last Words

  • Finally, Fadiman hopes that psychedelics use and research (once again) finds favor in the mainstream and will be of use to many in our society