My mom has stories galore about smoking PCP in Central Park or taking acid while horseback riding in the Pocono Mountains in the Seventies, but when it comes to the therapeutic uses of psychedelics, she loses interest in the conversation. She knows eating a few grams of mushrooms a couple times a year is helping me a ton, but how do I gently convince her that an intentional psychedelic experience every once in awhile could help with her anxiety and generations of working-class Irish Catholic guilt and shame? It’s a tricky and slow process, but by following these steps, I’ve gradually been chipping away at her bias and opening up her mind to the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics for all ages.
Bring it up casually, when the conversation is already going that way
When my mom began to enthusiastically tell me the plot of the psychedelic-focused TV show 9 Perfect Strangers (spoilers very much included), I let her. And when she got to the part about a couple in a rocky marriage taking MDMA together as part of their therapy, I took the opportunity to bring it back to how psychedelics help me, and could possibly help her, too. “You know Martin and I do that, take MDMA together just the two of us once or twice a year, and it’s amazing for our relationship,” I told her over the phone. With that context, she was more interested than if I had just brought it up out of the blue. And with the real-world example of how my longtime partner and I benefit from rolling together—we’re open in a way we find hard to access in everyday life and can both say and hear things we’ve been struggling with more easily, without the typical fear of hurting each other’s feelings—she
Explain how psychedelics have helped you, and how you think they could help the person you’re talking to
This is the bread and butter of my advice: Be open with loved ones about how different psychedelic experiences benefit you, with relatable examples. If your friend or family member is listening with interest, you could take it a step further in explaining how you think psychedelics could help them, too. With my mom, it’s not so easy, because she doesn’t believe she has problems that need fixing. But with my close friend’s mom who’s losing her mobility to depression, old age, and lack of exercise, we’ve been extending the conversation from how big doses a couple times a year help us with our depression and lack of purpose to how we think the same could be true for her. Now, she’s actively seeking out a guide in her area.
Talk about the scientific research, policy updates, and Indigenous practices
For those of you speaking with loved ones who are totally psychedelic-naïve and who still believe the War on Drugs propaganda they were taught in D.A.R.E., sharing the long history of traditional Indigenous practices, as well as current scientific research and policy updates (especially in mainstream news sources they already know and trust), can really help to shift their perspective.
For those of us with skeptical yet experienced moms like mine, it can help to explain research that’s pertinent to her life. In our case, I’ve brought it up in terms of the incurable, yet not imminently threatening, form of Leukemia my mom lives with. Even though it’s been manageable, when she was first diagnosed and had to adjust to a new routine of regular blood work and doctors’ appointments, it caused her a ton of anxiety that was misplaced in other parts of her life. For instance, she started getting panic attacks while driving on the highways in New Jersey and had to stop driving long distances completely. When she had an attack while I was in the car, I waited a few days but then explained to her during a sensitive moment that perhaps that was death anxiety, and asked her if she knew psilocybin has shown a ton of promise in treating end-of-life anxiety in cancer patients in clinical trials at institutions like Johns Hopkins. I told her how psilocybin-induced mystical experiences help patients come to terms with their diagnoses and spend the rest of their days (whether that be months or years) living and enjoying their lives to the fullest, rather than being consumed by their fear of dying. It has certainly piqued her interest, but for now I think the illegality of any kind of facilitated trip close to home is still a major cause for hesitation, even though she keeps up with policy updates. Of course, I respect that.
Lastly, be cautious with this one: Many excited young psychonauts make the mistake of being a bit too dogmatic about the promise of psychedelics and end up turning people off. Plus, these conversations can often be onesided, and forget to acknowledge some of the possible negative drawbacks of psychedelic use—so be sure to be honest and balanced in your approach and talk about how things like frequency of use, dose, and set and setting can greatly affect a trip and its outcome. And don’t try to sell psychedelics as a miracle cure for all of someone’s problems, because they’re not, and you run the risk of sounding like a snake oil salesman that most rational people will see right through.
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Use language they’re comfortable with
For some, especially those who lived through the Seventies and Eighties, or who have lost loved ones or watched them struggle with addiction, the language you use could make a huge difference. For many of those folks, words like ‘psychedelics,’ ‘shrooms,’ or ’tripping’ could conjure up images of people they care about hitting rock bottom, or scary experiences of taking psychedelics without any sort of preparation. When my mom, for example, smoked that laced PCP joint in Central Park, she was just trying to have fun and be adventurous. Then, she heard sirens and thought bombs were falling on the city, killing the vibe and any interest in doing a psychedelic again. And so, if the stigma and bias that they need to unlearn is deeply rooted in the language drug culture uses, switch up the semantics. Perhaps taking a more spiritual or therapeutic approach could help, supported by words and phrases like ‘plant medicine,’ ‘entheogen,’ or ‘journey work.’
By the way, if you get this far in conversation with your loved one, it may be a good time to explain how the environment they take their substance in, the intention they bring to the experience, measuring and testing their dose, and perhaps even seeking out a facilitated journey, all play a massive role in how these things turn out. (Notice how I’m not using phrases like ‘set and setting’ but language that my mom or someone similar could relate to.) This one’s especially useful to explain thoughtfully to folks who might have had a disconcerting experience in their youth they’d rather not repeat.
Live by example and respect their boundaries and process
Don’t be too dogmatic, no matter how zealous you are about psychedelics. Instead, live by example and embody the healing you claim to have found. That means: Be patient and kind, admit when you’re wrong, listen to your loved ones’ doubts or concerns, and ultimately, let them decide for themselves.
A final word to the wise: Don’t get upset, resentful, or act like you know better if they’re not interested at first. This isn’t personal, and that only turns people off further. Their lack of interest also doesn’t mean you have to completely give up. Just like with my own mom, I know I have to accept that changing her mind about these substances is going to be a process that takes time. But the more I open up, the more interested my mom becomes. She probably won’t be flying to Peru to drink ayahuasca anytime soon, but she has expressed interest in microdosing mushrooms—and it’s a ‘micro’ step I’m very happy with.
Michelle Janikian is the author of Your Psilocybin Mushroom Companion (Ulysses Press, 2019), the down-to-earth guide that details everything you need to know about taking magic mushrooms safely and mindfully.
*This article was originally published in DoubleBlind Magazine Issue 6.