Love & Other Drugs: The Couples Using Psychedelics as a Way To Get Closer

Some couples like to take time off and wander the world to recharge, rejuvenate and reconnect with each other. Others prefer a different kind of trip. 

Psychedelics are increasingly gaining prominence as well as regulatory approval as a form of treatment for mental health disorders ranging from PTSD to anxiety. This has also sparked a larger conversation on whether using hallucinogens like psilocybin mushrooms or LSD could then also emerge as a form of relationship therapy, given that these substances have the ability to curb inhibitions and change the way we perceive reality. 

The rise and rise of psychedelic wellness has also led to couples experimenting with the substances together, either to forge stronger bonds, deal with deep-seated issues in a controlled setting or simply share the euphoric experience together. In fact, though psychedelics are not legal in most countries, relationship counsellors are increasingly advocating their use in counselling sessions, where a couple is administered a mild dosage in a controlled environment, asked leading questions about their hopes and fantasies while they’re tripping, and given calculated counselling based on their experiences. 

“Psilocybin has incredible [potential] as a catalyst for such therapy because it tears down all your walls and filters, and changes the way you think about the relationship,” Kripi Malviya, a psychologist and founder of de-addiction and rehabilitation centre TATVA, told VICE. 

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Why Is Everyone Smoking Toad Venom?

In Southampton, soccer moms drop their kids off at school after taking their thrice-weekly microdose of psilocybin mushrooms, then meet for oat milk lattes. In Sun Valley, private retreats dedicated to tripping on MDMA or the Amazonian elixir ayahuasca are becoming almost as common as backyard barbecues. (Just don’t bring the kids.) In Silicon Valley, tech entrepreneurs and financiers turned psychonauts believe that taking small doses of LSD, in either liquid or tab form, helps with creativity and productivity in the workforce. Even rightwing internet investor Peter Thiel has put a formidable stake in Compass Pathways, a publicly traded psychedelic medicine company.

But now there’s a weirder, wilder new drug appearing on the menu for moneyed types in search of mind expansion: the Toad, otherwise known as 5-MeO-DMT (or, if you really want to know its correct name, 5-methoxy-N, N-dimethyltryptamine), or DMT, or Bufo. In his landmark 2018 memoir, How to Change Your Mind, Michael Pollan referred to it as the Everest of psychedelics.

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The human brain doubled in power, very suddenly, 200,000 years ago. Why?

There seems to have been a profound difference in cognitive abilities between early Homo sapiens and our immediate predecessor, Homo erectus. Sure, erectus stood upright — a big, um, step forward — but with the emergence of Homo sapiens, we see traces of art, pictography, and tool usage, and we believe humankind made its first forays into language.

In the early 1990s, psychedelic advocate and ethnobotanist Terence McKenna published his book Food of the Gods in which he surmised that homo sapiens’ cognitive leap forward was due to their discovery of magic mushrooms. The scientific community never took McKenna’s theory very seriously, considering it mostly trippy speculation — these days, his ideas have largely been relegated to the spacier corners of Reddit. Now, however, the idea has acquired a new advocate, psilocybin mycologist Paul Stamets, who’s suggesting McKenna was right all along.

In McKenna’s Stoned Ape hypothesis,” he posited that as humans began to migrate to new areas, at some point they came upon psychedelic mushrooms growing in cow droppings, as is their wont, and then ate them. After ingesting them, and more specifically the psilocybin they contained, their brains kicked into overdrive, acquiring new information-processing capabilities, and a mind-blowing expansion of our imaginations in the bargain. Many modern users of psychedelics claim the world never looks the same again after such an experience. As McKenna put it, “Homo sapiens ate our way to a higher consciousness,” and, “It was at this time that religious ritual, calendar making, and natural magic came into their own.”

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What happens when you take two heavily criminalized and stigmatized activities and put them together. For many clients — and their sex work providers — it’s nothing short of magic

Ahead of a psychedelic trip, Malakai likes to do a lot of preparation. He curates a playlist to serve as a “rough indication” for how long he’s been tripping. He formulates a custom lighting set-up to avoid disrupting the mise en scène. He cleans the house so his mind won’t wander to the meaningless chores of a mundane reality. 

Basically, when it comes to planning, Malakai doesn’t skimp on the details. But when he asked his regular sex-work provider to trip-sit him, a million more practicalities emerged. “What if I started crying?” Malakai, a pseudonym, recalls asking himself. “Would I fall in love with her? Would she get bored while I become detached from reality?” As it turns out, he needn’t have worried. “Rachel [also a pseudonym] saw no barriers to my concerns and seemed determined to turn my fantasy into a reality,” Malakai tells me. 

trip-sitter is a common phenomenon among psychedelic drug users, and it’s just a person who babysits you while you trip (most routinely with magic mushroomsacid or DMT). The practice is credited as a form of harm reduction, offering those on the trip a sense of safety, and hopefully, a peace of mind for a more positive trip (though experts are quick to warn that this isn’t guaranteed). Typically, you might ask a friend or family member to trip-sit, or even hire a professional trip-sitter. Or you might knock on the door of your regular sex-work provider.

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How COVID-19 Opened the Door to a New Era in Psychedelic Medicine

From Wall Street to Hollywood, psychedelics are having a cultural moment. For those of us who grew up in the “this is your brain on drugs” era, it’s hard to let go of stigma—and the mental image of an egg sizzling on a hot pan. But as a growing number of states and cities move to decriminalize drugs, and investors flock to an emerging market for psychedelic health care, substances like psilocybin, ketamine and LSD are edging into mainstream culture—and setting the stage for a paradigm shift in modern medicine.

Within the next few years, we could see psychedelic therapies prescribed for refractory depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or used in palliative care among those facing a life-limiting illness. But first we need to more deeply understand the benefits of psychedelic treatments. Right now, we are in the perfect storm to accelerate continued study—and health care workers are on the front lines.

It’s no coincidence that psychedelics are entering the conversation at the moment we most sorely need new ideas in mental health care. The world is experiencing mass trauma from COVID-19. It’ll take years for us to truly understand the magnitude of the pandemic’s toll on our collective mental health, but on the front lines, the picture is much clearer. In a recent survey of more than 20,000 frontline medical workers, 38% reported experiencing anxiety or depression during the pandemic, and 49% suffered burnout. Another survey found nearly one-quarter of all health care workers showed signs of probable PTSD.

When the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses surveyed 6,000 of their members this year, 66% said they had considered leaving their jobs because of the pandemic. “No amount of money could convince me to stay on as a bedside ICU nurse right now,” a Seattle-area nurse wrote in a resignation note posted on Twitter. “I can’t continue to live with the toll on my body and mind. Even weekly therapy has not been enough to dilute the horrors I carry with me from this past year and a half.”

Among health care workers, the prolonged battle against COVID-19 has intensified a long smoldering problem. Facing a fragmented medical sytem with frequently misaligned incentives, health care workers have been grappling with anxiety and depression—even before COVID, the suicide rate among doctors was more than twice that of the general public. From support groups and training to apps that monitor mental health, there are a number of programs that aim to solve and treat the problems leading to clinician burnout. But most have barely scratched the surface, and the prevalence of burnout during the pandemic has led researchers to explore alternative solutions—including psychedelic therapies.

A new study at the University of Washington is evaluating the efficacy of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy using psilocybin for frontline health care workers experiencing COVID-related distress. “The situations that frontline doctors and nurses are facing is unprecedented,” says Dr. Anthony Back, who’s leading the study. “The symptoms of depression, burnout and moral injury call out for research that looks at whether psychedelics can play a role in healing the healers.” The U.S. is not alone in seeking alternative therapies for the growing number of health care workers in crisis: at Vancouver Island University in Canada, the Roots to Thrive ketamine-assisted therapy program treats health care providers and first responders with PTSD, depression, anxiety and addiction.

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In a First, Texas Passes Law to Study Psychedelics to Treat PTSD in Veterans

For years, the Free Thought Project has been reporting on the beneficial effects of psylocybin mushrooms and other psychedelics ranging from treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to addiction and depression. In the land of the free, however, in all places except for Oregon, Oakland and Denver, cops will kidnap and cage you for using them. Tens of millions of people are denied the potentially life saving effects of this medicine based solely on the fact that ignorant government enforcers threaten to use violence against you for having it.

All that is changing, however, and one of the most conservative states in the union is realizing it. While psychedelic research has expanded over the years, veterans with PTSD face a unique hurdle as these alternative therapies are not available for them. Instead, VA clinics dish out SSRIs like candy and hope for the best. But thanks to a new law in Texas, we could soon see that paradigm shift.

This month, Gov. Greg Abbott (R), approved a bill that will require the state to study the therapeutic potential of psychedelics on veterans with PTSD.

The state, in partnership with the Baylor College of Medicine and a military-focused medical center, will study the medical risks and benefits of psilocybin, MDMA and ketamine for military veterans.

The new law also mandates a clinical trial into psilocybin for veterans with PTSD, in addition to a broader review of the scientific literature on all three substances.

“It’s said that ‘as goes in Texas, so does then nation,’” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Alex Dominguez, in a press release. “While states across the country consider how best to address the mental health crisis facing our nation, I hope they once again look to Texas for leadership.”

As Dominguez stated, there is indeed a mental health crisis facing America as thousands of veterans commit suicide every year.

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How a Psychedelic 12-Step Program Is Saving Lives

In 2002, Dimitri M. was ready to die. He’d been addicted to heroin for over 20 years, and his once-promising artistic life had collapsed into a series of banal pit stops: from the methadone clinic, to the valet parking gig, to the coke dealer, to the dope dealer, to the bed, and over and over again. Eventually, his longtime partner succumbed to intravenous drug use, and, though they were married by common law, he was barred from attending her funeral.

Dimitri was ready to finally let the drugs carry him away, like an undertow. He planned to take a trip to Greece as a last goodbye to his ancestral homeland, but while researching his farewell voyage, he was reminded of a conversation with an old friend about a hallucinogenic plant with the purported power to heal opioid addiction. He embarked on his trip as planned, but scheduled a brief detour in the Netherlands to be treated with this so-called miracle drug: Ibogaine. Though the alkaloid extract of the Tabernanthe iboga plant with psychoactive effects is illegal in the United States, Ibogaine has been used for decades by the Bwiti people of Gabon as a sacrament in a coming-of-age ritual, akin to a Bar Mitzvah.

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