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New Black Market Designer Drugs: Why Now?

2C-E and other illicit new drugs are a danger to users and a threat to psychedelic research, experts warn.

Why Do People Take Designer Drugs? continued...

Why are so many people risking their lives and risking imprisonment in order to take psychedelic drugs on their own, in uncontrolled settings, and at doses they can only guess at?

In a 2004 paper, Nichols offers a clue. He notes that "in much of the counterculture that uses these substances, 'entheogen' has replaced 'psychedelic' as the name of choice, and we may expect to see this trend continue."

"Entheogen" is from a Greek word meaning "god within." It refers to the deep spiritual experience reported by many people who have taken psychedelic substances while in a positive state of mind and in a supportive environment.

A recent clinical trial of psilocybin by Johns Hopkins researcher Roland R. Griffiths and colleagues found that mentally healthy adults reported "mystical-type experiences" with "substantial personal and spiritual significance." They said the experience caused "positive changes in attitudes, mood, and behavior."

The Minnesota teens injured by 2C-E mistakenly thought taking a psychedelic drug might be a fun way to party. But Goldsmith says many people knowingly seek out the difficult psychedelic experience because of a basic human need: the "urge to transcend."

"Not just transcend in the dreamy, wasted, blissed-out sense, but to transcend in the sense of integration into something deeper, something more fundamental: the ground of your being, your soul, who you were when you were born," he says. "And that is really the purpose of psychedelics, to get you down to who you really are, and in many cases to bond you with others in your family or tribe. [The experience] is not just for better personal integration but better community integration as well."

By community integration, Goldsmith is deliberately advising against the third part of Timothy Leary's infamous "Turn on, tune in, drop out" slogan of the 1960s. Goldsmith says that people who gain insights through spiritual psychedelic experience have a responsibility to reconnect with their families and their society at a deeper, more connected level.

Goldsmith is quick to note that he does not advocate illegal use of psychedelic drugs, nor does he offer such drugs to his psychotherapy patients. He warns against use of these substances by people with a family history of mental illness.

"But I do use it myself," he says. "What I see when I look inside and what I try to help my clients see is that there is a deeper truth, a deeper self. ... The knots in our psychological muscle can be released, unfurled, softened through love and warmth and acceptance. This is what psychedelics have done for me and what I try to do for my clients."

While true psychedelics, taken at precisely the correct dose in a supportive environment, appear to have these effects in people who are mentally prepared, it is impossible to know whether illicitly obtained drug truly are what they claim to be. Even if people do get the drug they think they are buying, there's no way to know whether it was made safely or at the correct dose.

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