The independent news organization of Duke University

The psychedelic renaissance

Shit. It’s nine o’clock in the morning and you’re an hour late for work. You curse your malfunctioning alarm clock and scramble to buckle your belt and tie your tie and run out onto the streets of San Francisco, but trip up on your newspaper that’s laying on the porch. You wipe the dust off your business suit and pick up the newspaper—rallies across the country protesting the Vietnam War—ah, it’s 1967. 

You start to panic—what’ll I do if I get fired for being late again? Then you hear that distant sound, that sweet strum and drum of The Beatles. You contemplate existence for half a second then rip off your tie and follow the sound. You’re never going down that street to your office again, no, that’s not what life’s supposed to be. You’ve arrived. 

Welcome to Haight-Ashbury, the district of San Francisco, California at the epicenter of the counterculture movement of the 1960’s. You munch on something someone just gave you and say goodbye to the world as you know it.  

Psychedelics have already had a dramatic impact on history, being a catalyst for the 60’s counterculture scene. I believe that psychedelics can be our future. With psychedelics, we get a drastic transformation in how individuals and societies function on every single level. We get unprecedented improvements in how we understand and deal with mental health and wellbeing. We learn to live a fulfilled and sustainable life if the US legalizes psychedelics. The US should immediately legalize psychedelics and actively invest in mental health and wellness services.

Psilocybin and Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) are two of the most fascinating and revolutionary chemicals that humans can take to affect their state of consciousness. Psilocybin, originating from certain fungi, and LSD, an artificially synthesized compound, have the remarkable quality of significantly altering your mental functionings for around six to twelve hours. The compounds bind to key brain cell receptors, a completely neurological process which results in an odyssey through your own consciousness. 

Part of the reason psychedelics have been illegal so long are the unpredictable results and widespread misconceptions of its utility. That’s why its pivotal for investment in psychedelic ‘centers’ which provide research, education, and health services for the public. With the rise of clinical trials on psychedelics, we’ll soon get a far stronger understanding of its use, and perhaps even develop entire systems or methods designed to help you trip. Already, we’ve learned of the importance of being in the right mental and physical setting before taking psychedelics. I think every US citizen should have this liberty; have the guidance and resources to improve your mental health through psychedelics. 

Misconceptions stem from the fact that it's very hard to describe a psychedelic experience with words. For starters, the two compounds produce distinctly different experiences; some say psilocybin gives a more earthy, pastel, and soft feel whereas LSD is more electric and dynamic. What they share are their beneficial insights: I see psilocybin as an introspective tool, a tool for self-discovery and personal-development, and LSD as an extrospective tool, understanding and appreciating the structure of the universe and your relationship with it. 

I like to describe my take by comparing it to playing the piano. When I was younger and less experienced, I would blindly look at the score and try my best not to play a wrong note. Now I’ve learned to enjoy the music. I can play fast or slow or depressing or ecstatic or anything I want; music becomes a mythical language with infinite powers of expression. A psychedelic trip is the piano teacher, the one who shows you and helps you discover the ways, but with the entirety of life instead of just music. 

Psychedelics transform your approach to life. All the systems and structures of society look like dotted lines; you see right through them and look at what’s around you without any judgment or notions. They let you dive into the labyrinth of your psyche and do some soul-searching, allowing you to discover and debate over questions about who you are. More importantly than all, however, is that psychedelics are whatever you want them to be: you can use them to have fun, to learn, to feel different, to answer questions—just like how you can make your life and lifestyle whatever you want it to be. 

The biggest lesson I’ve learned from psychedelics is to be conscious of your normal day as if it were a trip. Treat every day like it’s a trip; put yourself in settings filled with love and support, be aware of all those thoughts jumping through your mind, and just learn to chill out and enjoy doing nothing sometimes. Psychedelics give you the opportunity to derive insights personal to just you, which is why it’s such a powerful mental tool. 

These radical benefits of psychedelics are why psilocybin has already been granted breakthrough status by the Federal Drug Administration to treat depression. Clinical trials on using psychedelics in mental health programs have shown impressive results and with Oregon becoming the first state legalizing psilocybin, we find ourselves in what people call the ‘Psychedelic Renaissance’. 

With more states likely to follow, I believe that over the next decade, we’re going to experience the biggest cultural revolution of an era. Think of the 60’s as a buggy ‘beta’ launch—we saw the powerful benefits of a community centered around love and free-thinking, but recognized the many flaws (the cult-like view of ‘hippie-life’ along with the general mess of Haight-Ashbury). Now we have knowledge and experience backed up by heavy medical research, including the groundbreaking Johns Hopkins ‘Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research’. I see these psychedelic centers being created by the end of the decade. With clinical trials showing how psilocybin relieved symptoms of patients with major depression, psychedelics will be key to the new age of mental health services. 

Psychedelics have already started putting their footprint on popular culture. In the music scene, ‘psychedelic trap’ is becoming the mainstream sound, pioneered by artists such as Travis Scott and ASAP Rocky, in a similar way to what groups like Pink Floyd and The Beatles did in the 60-70s. 

If you plan on taking psychedelics, do extensive research beforehand, and be aware of your emotional mindset as well as your physical setting. 

Arya Krishnan is a Trinity sophomore. His column usually runs on alternate Fridays. 


Share and discuss “The psychedelic renaissance” on social media.