We have had the Internet for three decades, electricity for over a century, print for five centuries, writing for five thousand years, and we have been intoxicating ourselves forever; we started when we were monkeys. There are even researchers who claim that psychedelic plants – especially fungi! – made us human. That they expanded the consciousness of hominids, opened – as Aldous Huxley, a psychedelic guru, would say – their door to perception, and that surprise with the world, themselves, the existence, made them name their internal states and create a language. It is a very interesting concept – which I personally feel close to – that language originated not as a means of communication with other individuals but a tool facilitating internal dialogue.
Ben Sessa, a British psychiatrist studying psychedelics and their therapeutic potential in treating hopeless cases of psychological trauma, knows everything about the drugs altering our consciousness. In consequence, his ‘Psychedelic Renaissance’ is not only specialist work presenting the latest scientific concepts (which debunk the belief that substances such as LSD, MDMA, marijuana, mescaline, psilocybin and ayahuasca are hazardous, or even murderous, and deserve eternal damnation) but also a fascinating journey across the history of intoxication, meandering between anthropology, religion, culture, politics, and psychology, from the Stone Age to The Beatles’ ‘Yellow Submarine’. Everything you always wanted to know about psychedelics but were afraid to ask – that is how the book can be summarised in one sentence.
Sessa draws a line between psychedelics (a better term would be: entheogens, which means ‘creating god within’) and drugs such as heroin, cocaine, amphetamine or alcohol, which only ‘bolster’ our ego, usually with dire consequences. To be clear – the author is not an enthusiast of general access to hallucinogenic substances, and especially taking them for empty fun. As a psychiatrist, however, he believes they are excellent research means, which allow us to expand our understanding of the functioning of the brain and, if need be, fix it. When taken in a controlled way, they may reduce psychological blocks and anxiety, improve concentration, boost creativity, the flexibility of ideas, motivation, and empathy towards people and animals as well as processes occurring between them.
As Jefferson Airplane sang, psychedelics make us do things which have not been named yet. I do not know about you, but this appeals to me.
Ben Sessa ‘The Psychedelic Renaissance’, published in Poland by Okultura, Warsaw 2019