Psychedelics and meditation have a long and interesting relationship. Arriving to Western attention in the 1960s, for a long time they were both associated predominantly with the hippie movement. However, while psychedelics were made illegal and pushed underground, meditation slowly (and of course, quietly) found its way to the mainstream. Nowadays gyms and spas offer meditation sessions. Apps such as Headspace and OMG. I Can Meditate! mean that nowadays anyone can reap the benefits of something that 50 years ago you had to travel to India for.
Psychedelics Back in the Spotlight
However, psychedelics are back in the spotlight. This time for their therapeutic benefits, rather than to ‘turn on, tune in, and drop out’. Of course they never truly disappeared. Psychonauts and spiritual folk alike have paired psychedelics and meditation together for many years. But, now psychedelics have been granted shiny new legitimacy— as study after study verifies their effectiveness. They have been found to have positive results in everything from treating depression and PTSD, to increasing creativity and baseline happiness. It is thought it won’t be long until some of these substances (such as psilocybin) become legal and widely available, rather like CBD oil.
A Shortcut to Enlightenment?
Interestingly psychedelics are often referred to as a shortcut to the ‘enlightenment’ that meditation is supposed to achieve. To reach ego-death or transcendence via meditation is a long and arduous journey. However, some believe the discipline required is what can make it lasting. Psychedelics on the other hand, can sometimes create similar results in one 8 hour trip.
Both Affect The DMN
Comparative studies have looked at the brain scans of those who have taken psychedelics, and contrasted them with those of people in a meditative state. Through this researchers noted similar changes in the Default Mode Network (DMN) of the brain. The DMN is the part of the brain in which we self-reflect and plan. It is essential, but for sufferers of depression and other mood disorders it is often found to be overactive. This means they can experience an imbalance of negative thoughts and feelings towards themselves. Both psychedelics and meditation affect the DMN in ways that promote feelings of inner peace and insight, though in slightly different ways. But! We are not here to judge which is better. Rather what happens when the two are combined.
Study Shows Positive Effects
In a recent study on psilocybin (the psychoactive compound in magic mushrooms) by the University of Zurich researchers enlisted 40 meditation experts who were taking part in a 5 day wellness retreat. On the fourth day of the retreat, the participants were either administered a placebo or a dose of psilocybin. Using neurocognitive measurements the researchers were able to clearly show that mindful meditation increases the positive effects of psilocybin. It also reduced the negative effects sometimes associated with a psychedelic experience.
“Psilocybin markedly increased the incidence and intensity of self-transcendence virtually without inducing any anxiety compared to participants who received the placebo”
Lukasz Smigielski (first author of study)
Longer Lasting Results
Additionally, when surveyed 4 months later, those who had received the psilocybin reported higher levels of empathy, self acceptance and social functioning. According to the researchers, this is likely due to the higher intensity of the meditative experience due to psilocybin. This shows that meditation and psychedelics can work together to optimise each other’s most positive effects. The perfect match? It could seem so.
How to Integrate
So how can this be incorporated into everyday life? Well, meditation and mindfulness are one of our top recommendations to integrate the lessons learned after a psychedelic trip. During meditation you can focus on the insights you gained and how they can be applied to your daily life. This can be as small as introducing a daily walk to your routine, to reassessing damaging behavioural cycles.
Meditating While Tripping
Meditating while tripping can be an extremely profound experience. However, if you are not a practiced meditator before your trip, attempting to start your meditation career during it may not be the best option. Meditation takes a level of practice and discipline. When trying to empty your mind, you might find more thoughts than you imagined your brain could fit come a-knocking. If you become frustrated, this could derail the good intentions of your trip. But, on the other hand, tripping on psychedelics can help induce a meditative state. This means that it could also be a good first foray into one-ness with yourself. Only you can determine the correct path.
The Perfect Match!
The study showed how profound the effects of psilocybin were on those who already had a meditation routine. It could be a good idea to start your own today! Not only is it good for your mind and body. If you are planning to take a psychedelic trip in the near future, it can deepen and maintain the insights you experienced. Additionally, the enlightened feelings experienced during the trip can be put towards future meditative contemplation. So there you have it, psychedelics and meditation— the perfect match.
Check out the full study here!