On this episode of Here and Now, Ram Dass breaks down the history of psychedelics and helps us in understanding the risks and the rewards of these consciousness-altering chemicals.
A History of Psychedelics
In response to a question about the risks and rewards of using psychedelics, Ram Dass begins with a primer on the history of these consciousness-altering chemicals. He explores how psychedelics have been used in religious rituals throughout history, and brings us into modern times with Albert Hoffman’s discovery of LSD. He talks about how psychedelics allow people to come out of their egocentric predicament and see the universe freshly.
“The predicament is that as you develop a model of who you are and how the universe works, it’s extremely hard to get out of that… What the chemical allows you to do is set that aside for a moment and see the universe from a different vantage point.” – Ram Dass
Intuitive Validity (19:05)
Ram Dass illuminates how psychedelics became a cultural phenomenon in the 1960s, and how these chemicals also became a threat to the social structure. He touches on some details from his time at Harvard, including the historic Good Friday Experiment, and what eventually led to him being fired. He talks about the consequences of psychedelics being made illegal.
“When I had the chemical, I touched a part of myself that made me question the whole social structure and not be willing to play by the rules anymore. Because something was more intuitively valid to me; the part of me that I met was more intuitively valid than the part of me that had been part of the social game. In other words, I met something behind my own ego.” – Ram Dass
Understanding the Risks and Rewards of Psychedelics (34:20)
Ram Dass explores the importance of set and setting for psychedelic use, and how the profound spiritual transformation that can be born from these chemicals is similar to psychological death. He shares his view on why psychedelics are no longer as necessary for altering consciousness as they once were, and why younger people should not use them.
“When you’re taking a chemical in a society that has made it illegal, first of all, you have to realize that there is an attendant paranoia to the whole phenomenon because of the social structures. Because, as I said, it’s set and setting; it’s where your mind is at, and it’s also the environmental conditions in which you take it.” – Ram Dass