Dropping Acid Doesn’t Mean You’re Psychedelic

Just doing drugs doesn’t make you a psychonaut – integrating those lessons into your normal, sober life does. This week Madison Margolin explains her learnings of how to ‘Be Here Now’ from her time with Ram Dass, and her own psychedelic journeys.
The author in Vrindavan / Photo credit: David Morgan

I was in Goa—the hippie headquarters of the world, where the jungles come to life with all night psytrance parties, where the shores of the Arabian Sea are dotted with with drum circles and beachside acro-yoga, where travelers come for a week and stay for a year, flocking to ecstatic dance and meditation retreats, or getting swept up in the trip that is simply being in a place that, in and of itself, is psychedelic.

And so, when I went on my own hippie pilgrimage to Goa and stayed with Mohan, my father’s friend of 50+ years—an American expat living in India—I was surprised when, in his Long Island drawl, he quipped that people nowadays aren’t having psychedelic experiences, but simply getting high off psychedelics. Here we were sipping chai, as he detailed his own psychedelic experiences on 300 micrograms of acid, or more (that’s about three times the average dose), losing sense of his identity, absorbed into the One collective cosmic consciousness—experiences that ultimately primed him in the late 1960s to become a devotee of the guru Neem Karoli Baba (1900-1973), a.k.a. Maharaj-ji, whose teachings made it to the West through the writings and lectures of his most well-known devotee, Ram Dass, author of Be Here Now—another Jew on a journey, like Mohan, that led him from a tenured position at Harvard, where he was known as Dr. Richard Alpert who experimented with psychedelics, to the feet of a Hindu baba wrapped in a plaid blanket at an ashram in the foothills of the Himalayas.

Simply being in the presence of the guru itself felt psychedelic, and many of those in Maharaj-ji’s satsang, or community (including my father) went on to integrate their experiences into the rest of their lives, taking on a practice of yoga, meditation, vegetarianism, chanting, cultivating a community of kindred spirits, and in the case of those like Mohan, liberating themselves from the grips of American society for a freer existence, ripe with the rawness of humanity that is living in India. 

I thought about what Mohan said, that a psychedelic experience isn’t necessarily about just ingesting a substance that’s classified as psychedelic, but about transcending yourself, releasing your ego in service of connection to something greater than and beyond yourself—to Creator, to community, to the kingdom that is our planet. 

And so here’s my rant: Dropping acid doesn’t mean you’re psychedelic. Eating mushrooms doesn’t mean you’ve tuned into cosmic truth. In fact, your schedule full of ayahuasca ceremonies might actually be anti-psychedelic. 

Because what’s a “plant medicine lifestyle” that doesn’t begin with the plant medicine that you put on your plate or grow in your yard? A psychedelic life isn’t defined by the act of taking psychedelics—whether it’s once a year, once a month, or once a week—but rather by the ways in which your mundane life is kissed with the magic of your psychedelic experiences, that your sober existence reflects the psychedelic ethos, that the way you move through the world on a daily basis integrates and engages the lessons that you came to under the influence of these paradigm-shifting encounters. And those lessons often begin with basic health and mindfulness. 

Before we get any further into this discussion, I’ll define what I mean by psychedelic. While etymologically, the word means “mind manifesting,” I recently came upon an argument from Ben Malcolm, a.k.a. the Spirit Pharmacist, that the term “psychedelic” is a misnomer and instead should be “psychosomatodelic” to reflect what’s actually happening when we have a “psychedelic” experience. As Mohan would put it, and how I’ve experienced it and observed through my reporting as a journalist on the psychedelic beat, a (strong) psychedelic experience may temporarily and to varying degrees dampen the neurological hardware associated with the ego, putting us more in touch with our bodies and the soul—that piece of collective divinity fractalized into individual embodiment. The psychedelic emboldens our soul within the body and its wisdom, while quieting the constructs of our egos. When we come out of the trip, ideally our “integration” looks something like a practice of nourishing the body and feeding the soul—in what could be considered a soul-first, embodied lifestyle oriented toward service in something outside yourself. That is what’s psychedelic. 

The author in Goa / Photo credit: David Morgan

Being a psychedelic journalist, working in the psychedelic industry, spending my life around people who routinely use psychedelics, I’ve seen all too often the circumstance of people wearing psychedelic on the sleeve, but continuing to feed or inflate the ego, treat each other poorly, and abuse or neglect their bodies with poor health decisions. As I’ve said before (in relation to my own experience), doing acid’s cool, but have you ever tried a daily yoga practice… and then done the psychedelic after you’ve built the vessel within yourself to not only hold the experience, but to also maintain its essence once the acute effects wear off?

The question isn’t about how deep into the psychonautic ethers you’ve journeyed; it’s rather about what from those far out states you bring down to the here and now. It’s not about relying on the psychedelic to do the healing work for you, but to use it simply as a vehicle to arrive at that place in yourself where you meet your inner healer. The “medicine” is the journey, but ultimately a journey takes you to a destination, and there’s never just one way to get there. To think that there’s just one way—to run exclusively to ceremony, or to acid, or to the “solution” of taking psychedelics without trying something else first, or even third—is anti-psychedelic if you’ve boxed yourself in to thinking there’s only one way to heal, to have fun, or to connect (that is, through ingesting a substance). 

As Ken Kesey himself encouraged us to ask ourselves, what’s next? How do you take psychedelic consciousness further? Because once you’ve gone up and down and through the revolving door of the psychedelic trip, what comes after? Will you stay on the merry-go-round ride, going in circles—or go beyond? 

Psychedelic to me is everything. Transcending binaries, boundaries, and the set-in expectations. It’s psychedelic to travel to India, to take in the vibrant colors and sweet fragrances. It’s psychedelic to hold two truths at once and know that one of them doesn’t have to be false. It’s psychedelic to touch your toes, especially if and when you don’t feel like it. It’s psychedelic to have a practice of integration—to practice what it means to simply be present. 

Because what is psychedelic if not an opportunity to connect to yourself and nature, to Creator and the cosmos, to community and to connection itself? What is psychedelic if not transcending time and space to zoom into the simultaneously eternal and ephemeral moment, to be here now in hyper presence, such that the mind, body and spirit calibrate as one? Well, the answer to that is, integration.

Take something from the psychedelic experience—a song you listened to, a yoga pose you spent time in (for me, it’s child’s pose during ayahuasca), a page you journaled, a book you read, a prayer—and revisit it, develop it, stay with it, and grow it in your regular life. Such that life itself becomes more psychedelic. 

This isn’t to discourage anyone from tripping; it’s not to prescribe a frequency with which to journey. It’s rather to honor the experience and ethos of psychedelics through a life that illustrates just how influential they have the potential to be. 

Ram Dass never stopped tripping. But the question is, are you tripping to escape what’s going on, to forget the qualms of the present moment or the past—or to enhance the moment, and to remember

To read more riffs and rants, check out Madison’s book

  1. Has the author of this article even ever experienced LSD or any other psychedelic? The name comes from the drug not some kind of lifestyle you discovered along the way. Not to mention telling others what is and isn’t psychedelic is about the LEAST psychedelic thing you can do. You really want to tell the psychedelic community what the definition of their entire scene is? A bit pretentious aren’t we? Does this site even vet these articles anymore? A lot of unproved information from studies and articles from people like the author of this one these days.

  2. Well written article by someone who understands the value of integration and the benefits of psychedelic plant medicine on a holistic level. Unfortunately, in this day in age many are set on going as deep as possible as fast as possible to come out thirsty for more cause they have failed to know how to integrate the lessons into their daily life. Many are also caught up in who is giving the message instead of the message itself. Gotta love our egos as they can get visous if we don’t actively work to put them in check. Thank you, I needed to read this, especially the part about the trap of boxing ourselves in with thinking there is only one way to heal, have fun, or connect through ingesting psychedelics. Can’t forget the other two variables: set and setting which is what this is hitting at. Good stuff keep up the good work!!

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