Psychedelics have taken center stage in the news lately, especially with the successful medical trials. They are helping with loads of things, from PTSD to terminal illness to smoking addictions.
These drugs are promising and it’s super clear that psychedelics are changing people’s minds in some way, but how exactly are they doing it? How are they different from other drugs?
I mean, psychedelics come from plants you can find out in the open, unlike a lot of drugs. Psychoactive mushrooms grow everywhere, and cacti and shrubs are just plants too, but that’s a story for another day.
In truth, one of the big ways they are different is actually pretty simple. It has a lot to do with how our minds worked as kids versus how they do now. This isn’t all of what psychedelics do but it’s a huge part of it. So let’s start with how we saw the world as kids.
Throwback to how our minds worked as kids
One of the best quotes ever is, “Kids are in love with their own audacity [and] mesmerized by the world around them (…).”
This is so, so true because kids are always looking at things in a profound, shiny new way. Everything amazes them because it’s the first time they’ve experienced it, or it’s new enough that their brain processes it again.
This can get a taaad annoying, especially when little Bobby asks, “why” 3000 times a day. But it’s also sort of cute that he’s everything intrigues him.
But you know what’s weird? It’s even easier for kids to solve creative problems than adults. This seems strange given how great we are at solving problems. You know, like math and stuff. Well, some of us anyway (I totally avoid math because, well, it’s hard).
The reason for this makes total sense though. It’s because kids are able to think more abstractly and pay attention to details, whereas adults assume problems are going to be more or less the same and don’t pay as much attention to detail (guilty). We have more trouble thinking outside the box than our little spawns.
So, when will little Bobby stop asking why all the time?
On the other hand, after we hit adolescence, we start developing habits and typical patterns of thinking. We filter a lot of things out and stop thinking as creatively. We’ve seen things before and have been around the block.
Habitual thinking and pattern of thought, makes it much, much easier to go through life and not process all the same things day to day. It’d be impossible to do anything truly productive if everything is new and mesmerizing when we wake up.
This is a really good thing in most cases, but even so, it can hurt us.
We get stuck in old, sometimes unhelpful ways of thinking. Bad habits and addictions start to form. We often find it hard to charge or look at problems with new, fresh eyes.
As for this, you probably know how it feels. Especially if you’ve tried to quit smoking, pick up a new habit like working out, or even tried to change your thinking to be more optimistic. It’s much easier to smoke, just sit on the couch watching Netflix, or think negatively.
In my own life, I find it really hard to have the courage to start new things and think that I’m worthy of doing them. It’s a bad habit I have where I get stuck in that way of thinking.
But what if we could easily get rid of all those bad habits? What if we could start fresh and go back to where everything is new? How cool would it be to recreate ourselves and patterns of thinking?
As a matter of fact, this is where psychedelics come in.
Turn off that part of your brain
The way psychedelics work is turning off the part of our brain associated with habitual, normal patterns of thinking. Things we think about ourselves, problems we’ve solved before, experiences we’ve had, and how that all relates to our present and future. Things that are default for people and don’t require any effort to think about.
This is called the default mode network, which is the box. Psychedelics turn that part of our brain off, and turn on another part that’s usually dormant.
Imperial College’s head of psychedelic research, Robin Carhart-Harris,says it’s like “shaking a snow globe”. When we grow up, patterns of thinking develop. Think of it like our habits and thoughts as different snowflakes patterns. The snow settled in a certain way, in different patterns that stuck.
Once psychedelics enter the picture, we immediately shake the snow globe allowing the “snow” to move around. Because we shut off that part of our mind associated with habits and patterns of thought, we can think in new ways.
And because we start thinking in new ways and we “shake the snow”, we can allow the snow to resettle in a new, different way. We can easily make changes and change habits quickly. We start to think outside of the box.
This difference in thinking can cause actual transformation and why its different from other drugs. They allow us to easily view the world and ourselves that don’t involve our patterned, biased perspective.
We can think new thoughts and change old ways so easily. It’s why people with all sorts of mental disorders are benefitting from it and seeing major change in their lives. From depression to OCD to alcoholism, habits are conquered.
Psychedelics are different
So, this is part of what makes psychedelics different from other drugs. It’s not supposed to be a party drug and it’s not just a hallucination drug; it’s transformational.
They should only be prescribed by doctors because they are powerful. They literally switch off part of our brain so other parts can flourish-how cool is that? I would love to have an off button for some of my thoughts.
Psychedelics aren’t just another drug but a tool for real, lasting change. They are tools that breaks habits and creates new thoughts.
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