Is LSD A Healing Agent?…

Is LSD A Healing Agent?

I spent many years struggling with depression, trying not only numerous antidepressants, but also medications for sleep, anxiety, and even psychosis. When decades of psychiatric treatment and psychotherapy did not cure me, I branched into alternative and complementary medicine, like acupuncture, herbal remedies, nutritional supplements, drastic changes in diet, light therapy, yoga, meditation, and massage.

By this time the depression had become so persistent that I woke every morning in such a debilitated and sad mood I called it the River of Grief. It was sapping the life completely out of me. Most days this low mood persisted through the whole day. So when both traditional and alternative treatments had failed, and I heard that psychedelic drugs can be healing, I was skeptical and incredulous, but decided to try them. Thus began my psychedelic healing journey.

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Healing through psychedelics

I found a shaman, someone skilled in administering illicit drugs like DMT (dimethyltryptamine), MDMA (methylene dimethylamphetamine), psilocybin and LSD. When I met Herbert, I immediately liked him. He was in his early 40’s, but dressed casually in jeans and a flannel shirt. The Rolex watch on his wrist hinted at his previous life working in a financial institution. We did six sessions with MDMA, DMT and psilocybin over a period of three months, but they had little effect on the River of Grief. So Herbert decided it was time for the big gun: LSD. He often worked with his assistant, Lori, a tall, statuesque woman with long dark hair in her 30’s.

To help my body-mind be more receptive to LSD, we did another session with MDMA, then two days later, Herbert and Lori picked me up at my home for the shamanic healing session with LSD. Both Herbert and Lori were dressed casually in light-weight tan shirts and jeans. We headed up into the foothills above the city. I got into the car with trepidation.

I had been raised as a Seventh-Day Adventist. No cigarettes, no coffee, no alcohol, no pork, no dancing, no movies, and certainly NO DRUGS. Was I really doing this? Although I was a child of the 60’s, until I began the shamanic healing sessions, I had only smoked marijuana once, and never used any other illicit drug. I had thought that MDMA, which was undergoing scientific research for FDA-approval for treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder, would heal me. I had attended a medical conference on it and felt more comfortable and confident taking it. But now I was going to take LSD. That drug of the 60’s that made people crazy!

Lori handed me salt-water taffy with a tiny piece of paper embedded in it which contained LSD. “Put this in your mouth, between your gum and cheek and just suck on it for a while. After it gets soft, chew it up and swallow it.”

“How long before I begin to feel the effects?” I asked.

“About an hour or so,” Herbert said. “You probably won’t begin to feel much until we get up into the foothills, to the spot where we are going to set up and spend the day.”

“We’re going to build a fire,” Herbert said. “We sometimes call LSD ‘fire’ because it will burn impurities out of your system. It can burn away sadness, anger, grief. You can have a conversation with the fire. Let the fire know what you would like it to do. But also listen to the fire. There will definitely be times where the fire will talk to you. Sit back and absorb what the fire has to say.” As we drove we gained about 1500 feet in elevation, then Herbert pulled off the main road onto a dirt road. He drove a short distance, and parked. “This is it,” he said.

I jumped out of the car and walked up the trail while Lori and Herbert began to unpack the car. They brought a box with firewood, some camp chairs, an ice chest, and a blanket. They hauled them a short distance, to the other side of a large rock outcropping, where there was a natural clearing and a spot for a campfire. While Herbert and Lori were getting the fire going, I wandered around and explored the area. There were a number of large boulders to climb on; I sat on one that was as large as a killer whale and looked down into the valley. It was a clear fall day with only a few wispy clouds and we could easily see the city below. The temperature was in the low 70’s. I felt slightly drunk as I clambered down from the huge boulder. The camp chair positioned close to the fire beckoned to me. Herbert began the shamanic ceremony with prayers to Mother-Father God and offerings of burnt sage to the four directions. Then we all sat encircling the fire, mostly enveloped in a dense silence.

Lori, who sat next to me, reached out with her long arm and put a few sticks of wood near me. “When you think of something you would like the fire to burn up for you, name it and put one of these in,” she said.

I tossed a stick of wood into the fire. “Shame,” I said.



The stick caught fire. The colors were intense: blue and orange, in elaborate moving patterns. I glanced up at the enormous boulder that was on the other side of the campfire. Someone had sketched an outline of a face on the rock – large eyes, a mouth and a nose stared back at me. The face was alive, its expression changing. First it looked down on me sternly. Then it winked and grimaced. I glanced away, shook my head, but felt compelled to look back. Now the expression was kindly. I wanted to give it a hug, but resisted the impulse. Looking back at the campfire took me back to ordinary reality. The small log that I had placed for shame was engulfed in flames now.

“Here, fire,” I said as I pushed another stick of wood onto it. “Burn up this GRIEF.”

Remembering Herbert’s earlier instruction to talk to the fire, I asked, “Why did I have to be raped?” The fire said nothing. “Just karma, I guess,” I mumbled to myself, my eyes beginning to tear up. I looked at the fire; it crackled, and then a loud pop. “I’ll take that as a yes.”

“How did the rape affect me?” I asked the fire, tears now trickling down my cheeks.

“Stronger and more compassionate,” the fire said softly.

“What?” I asked.

“STRONGER AND MORE COMPASSIONATE!” the fire said loudly. I jerked back a little, almost expecting someone to step out of the fire.

The words reverberated in my head. Stronger and more compassionate. Yes, I was stronger and more compassionate. Stronger and more compassionate than most people. I felt it and knew it was true, so I said it out loud, “I am stronger and more compassionate.” The words did not sound substantial enough.

I looked at the fire again. “I am stronger and more compassionate,” I said aloud, glancing over at Lori, who now looked like an Egyptian princess. Her hair was jet-black now and fell bluntly to her shoulders, very straight. Her nose was straighter and more prominent. Her eyes were very dark and she appeared to be wearing heavy eye make-up. Her clothes had changed too, into a flowing purple robe. She gave me an approving glance as I repeated the words again, “stronger and more compassionate.”

I ended that session feeling good, but as with the other sessions, the good feeling didn’t carry over into the next day. I woke with an awful emptiness in my core and a sense of grief. The River of Grief yet again. What was wrong with me? Why wouldn’t this sadness go away? Would more LSD sessions help get rid of the depression?

Reflections on LSD

As I accepted the sadness, I reflected on the LSD session. Winking, affectionate rocks that I wanted to hug? A fire that talked to me? Definitely a rupture in my ordinary reality, but during the session it had all seemed perfectly normal. I also thought about the previous sessions, and how, cumulatively, they might be changing my awareness of myself and the world. I was becoming more in tune with my feelings, more accepting of my negative emotions, and also more able to notice my thoughts. Sometimes, when my thoughts were angry, I could consciously choose to think about a situation differently. At times, I could even bring up a sense of compassion for someone who had made a cutting comment to me or behaved in a way I thought was abominable. This awareness was a good, desirable thing, so I decided to continue with the psychedelic healing sessions.

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Jolene Starr

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Jolene is a retired physician whose memoir Buen Viaje: A Physician’s Journey to Healing and Wholeness was published last month.…

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