If you’ve spoken to me in the past two years, you’ve probably heard me talk about psychedelics. I feel like I’ve shared quite a lot in this area, but there is rarely enough time for a conversation deep enough to paint a more comprehensive picture. For this reason, and as part of #ThankYouPlantMedicine, I’m writing this article.

Naturally, I’m only sharing my personal experiences and opinions here. I am not encouraging you to do anything potentially illegal or dangerous. If you decide to take psychedelics, please do your research and preparation in terms of risks, safety, and legality.

How I discovered psychedelics

Only about three short years ago, I was what I now call “drug naïve” – I was completely opposed to all types of illegal drugs and I had very little knowledge about their differences. I thought heroin, cocaine, LSD, and cannabis were basically all in the same category – dangerous, addictive, and highly destructive to anyone using them.

My personal development journey so far had mostly consisted of reading books and blogs and working with a coach. In 2014 I started traveling and in 2015 I started my own business in order to become a “digital nomad” – both of which served as catalysts for my growth. I started attending more conferences, seminars, established a basic meditation and yoga practice. I never considered myself spiritual and had very little understanding of spirituality.

Psychedelics first got my attention based on mentions about microdosing LSD for enhanced productivity (which is quite ironic to me now that I’ve developed a more spiritual perspective). A friend introduced me to LSD (with a full dose) and I had a wonderful experience. I felt connected to my true self, my inner child, in a way that felt beautifully refreshing and clear.

Later, when I heard about ayahuasca for the first time, mainly about the way people tend to “purge” on it (vomiting and diarrhea), I thought “why would anyone want to do that?”. And again, a friend shared her positive experiences with me and invited me to join her at a retreat in California. I had my doubts and no idea what to expect – it is quite impossible to understand before you experience it.

My first ayahuasca retreat, specifically the first night, was an incredibly beautiful experience. I saw every important person in my life and my relationship with them with so much clarity, created a new image of my body, caught a glimpse of true femininity and feminine energy, and so much more. This was also the first time I experienced the unconditional love and community that is quite common in these circles. It felt like a watershed moment.

Since then, I’ve been so lucky (and daring) to have many more psychedelic experiences in a range of different contexts, including a total of six ayahuasca ceremonies, two very different San Pedro ceremonies (the second of which was easily one the most beautiful days of my life so far), 5-MEO-DMT (bufo alvarius), and various LSD and psilocybin mushroom experiences. I also microdosed LSD on a regular 3-day protocol for over 2 months, and occasionally since.

Michelle with ayahuasca vine

Ayahuasca vine

The positive changes I have found through psychedelics

All my psychedelic experiences brought immediate learnings and changes. There have been a lot of insights over the years and many of them are highly individual. They also never happen in isolation, but rather in the context of my overall life and other practices of personal development.

Everyone deciding to work with psychedelics and especially plant medicine will need to make their own experiences and do their own integration work. Nevertheless, I’d like to share a few of the changes I’ve gone through and the learnings I’ve had, hoping to inspire and serve as an example of what can happen. These are neither absolute truths nor experiences you necessarily will or need to have. I’ll try to keep them short, only scratching the surface of my process.

Changed values & perception

Generally, a lot of my personal values have changed. I now sense a deep connection to nature as well as a new appreciation and understanding of community and love. My priorities in my personal life and business have changed, to the degree that I have let go of or started to loosen previous relationships and social circles.

My understanding of who and what I am and what the universe is has also changed. I understand myself (and everyone else) as the universe experiencing itself, a part of a divine spiritual oneness, connected to everyone and everything else. When I recently read “Conversations with God” I found most of my spiritual beliefs reflected and nicely put into words. This is perhaps more intellectual rather than practical, but I have found a lot of comfort and trust in this.

Mindfulness & detachment from ego and goals

Even though I have never experienced a full-on ego death as some others describe, I noticed a sense of separation from my “self” early on in my psychedelic explorations. I noticed how, in stressful or uncomfortable situations for example, I can observe my thoughts and emotions as separate from who I am, looking at them with curiosity and acceptance instead. I find this immensely helpful and relieving.

More recently, I noticed a detachment from goals such as money and conventional success so fundamental that it felt more like an identity crisis and lack of reason to live than anything “enlightened”. It took me a while to “rediscover” goals as something to deliberately choose and play with, as opposed to something externally dictated and validated.

Books with related thought processes: “A New Earth” and “Man’s Search for Meaning”

Relationship with family

Now 28, I moved out of my parents’ house when I was 17. All I wanted back then was to move as far away as possible and be independent. Spending time with my family since then was rare, brief, and usually followed the same patterns of annoying and not understanding each other.

Since starting to work with the plants, this has fundamentally changed. I have (by choice) spent more quality time with my parents this past year than in all my previous adulthood combined and I feel that our relationship has reached an unseen level of mutual understanding and connection. Even though it was just me who has been working with psychedelics, it felt like the healing was happening from both sides, helping us to break our patterns and shed the parts of our egos that were holding us back from truly connecting.

Searching for answers and my path in life

A lot of the time, I went into psychedelic experiences with clear intentions and questions such as life or business decisions, asking for guidance on what path to choose. Most of the time, they were not answered. At first, I thought that the other topics that came up instead had to be worked on first before I could receive the answers I truly sought.

What was however answered were questions related to a deeper level of growth and healing, such as patterns, limiting beliefs, seeing the edge of what is possible/comfortable/easy, or stepping into new identities. And while this was deeply fulfilling and benefited me a lot, I kept longing for the “big” answers to find my path in life.

At a recent ceremony, another participant shared her views with me on how we can’t plan or know exactly the right steps forward. We just need to take one step at a time and trust and play with it, following our heart step by step. We don’t need to know the end goal or our heart’s biggest desire – we just need to listen right now, one tiny step at a time. And we create the path by walking it. This idea isn’t new of course – but the nature of the stories we hear in the world is that of understanding something backwards that has already happened. Very rarely is it mentioned that those stories’ protagonists did not know the path moving forward, or how their individual steps lined up to eventually form the path.

Depression

Psychedelics have been talked about a lot in regard to healing depression, particularly in therapeutic contexts. Nevertheless, I feel hesitant to share this part of my story, partly because it entails admitting that I have been experiencing depression, and partly because it might be too recent to draw any meaningful conclusions.

For most of 2019, but most intensely for about three months towards the end of the year, I experienced an overwhelming feeling of depression and loneliness. I saw no meaning in life, I was longing for relief from life (but taking my life was not an option because that would have just restarted the cycle), and I was feeling immense guilt for all of it, given my amazing external life circumstances, freedom and relative success. I was not able to ask for help and I had no idea how to get better.

Out of a different motivation, I signed up for an ayahuasca retreat in November. In the weeks leading up to it, I started to feel better – some say the medicine starts working on you long before you drink it. The preparation day and first ceremony of the retreat were beautiful – I felt invigorated, more alive and awake than ever, determined to achieve the goals I had chosen for myself. Then during the second ceremony, I felt almost no effects of the ayahuasca. I had a brief image of “her” appearing as a beautiful woman and turning into a skeleton, and I felt utterly abandoned by her. After the ceremony, I felt all my depression and loneliness hit me at once. It felt smothering, crushing, and as if everything – the previous ceremony, all my work and positive changes this year – had been for nothing. The next day, I realized that perhaps this feeling, this depression, was the death I had so been looking for. I had already had it. And I could now choose to let go of it.

Today, almost two months later, I look back at this as the moment when my depression lifted, and I could finally breathe again. It may not be gone entirely, and certainly parts of what caused it are still there and need to be cleared (see “Lost Connections” for an interesting perspective on the true causes of depression in our modern society), but I feel much better now and ready to choose to feel alive again and embrace life and all of its experiences.

Fear of spiders

I have always been terrified of spiders, even the relatively small European ones. Before my first trip to Australia in 2014, I almost cancelled it because I expected huge spiders lingering in every corner. I’ve had a few surprise encounters with very large spiders since then (mostly in Thailand, ironically), and they left me in a state of mild physical shock (like the feeling after a minor accident).

In the beginning of 2019, I decided to finally work on this fear that was overly occupying my mind and clearly wasn’t rational (it had nothing to do with the actual threat that only a small number of spiders present to humans, but with the appearance and size alone). I started researching spiders and how arachnophobia is treated in therapy, I looked at more and more photos and videos, and I closely inspected a huntsman spider (harmless but gigantic) that was living in the cupboard of my AirBnB at the time. All of this already helped a lot.

A few weeks later, I participated in a San Pedro ceremony. As soon as the effects started, “he” (the masculine spirit that many people experience with this plant medicine) appeared in front of me as a giant spider (and I mean the Aragog kind of giant), wearing glasses and a hat, smiling and resembling an old, slightly crazy grandpa. Of course, I thought, what else would you appear as, and I laughed. I had more visions of spiders (crawling all over my field of vision for example) that day, but it didn’t feel scary. I came out of the experience seeing spiders as just another manifestation of the beauty and diversity of life, as a part of nature just like me.

I haven’t seen a big spider since, but I feel a lot more at peace with the possibility and I know that I will be able to fully overcome this fear when the time comes.

Michelle with Huntsman Spider

Beauty & self-acceptance

Perhaps like most of us, especially women, I have always struggled with my looks, body type, and individuality, often feeling awkward. Interestingly, this has been a strong theme throughout my different journeys.

My experiences with plant medicine have helped me to see myself as beautiful, to realize that there’s no need for that awkwardness, and to reach a place of harmony with my body. I also learned to accept my desire to be beautiful in the first place, rather than judging it as wrong or superficial.

Beyond the physical, I accept myself more fully and feel more often that I am enough, loved, and appreciated (though still a work in progress). I see how I used to hold back love out of fear of being inadequate. I am still working on letting that go and instead allowing myself to love freely, bringing my sensitivity and empathy into my relationships and work.

Accepting ourselves fully also translates to leadership and success (however you like to define it). We tend to see high achievers as having certain qualities and strengths that are required to be successful in their respective field. But I have come to believe that success and achievement comes from embracing and owning our uniqueness and trusting in our unique journey in life.

Integration

Integration is still a somewhat mysterious word that is very hard to translate into a practical, concrete process. It describes the process of “digesting” psychedelic experiences and integrating the insights and shifts into our life. While the psychedelic experience usually lasts a few hours, integration can take much longer and is also the much more important part of the process.

Personally, I like to practice integration in the first few days after a journey by taking more time for myself and reduce commitments such as meetings and travel to a minimum. I like to spend time in nature, walk, move my body, meditate, sleep more than usual, sing, listen to music, journal. I try to limit reading and consuming content as well as social media to a minimum to stay in my own process rather than be influenced externally.

Beyond those immediate practices, integration is a continuous process. About one year after my first ayahuasca journey, with more journeys in between, was the first time when I felt fully integrated on that particular one. Like it had all sunk in and I could finally see a sort of three-dimensional view of the change that has happened.

Of course, I also actively work on myself, my life and my business outside of psychedelics. I read and work through non-fiction books, practice yoga, meditation and affirmations, journal, and generally try to deal with whatever comes up in “normal” life with mindfulness and curiosity. Psychedelics certainly are a powerful tool in my life, but they are just a small part of my overall journey.

Other people’s reactions

I’ve always talked relatively openly about my experiences, and this has led to a lot of beautiful and deep conversations. People have asked me to share my experiences, recommend retreats, or share tips for preparation and integration. Some have asked for clarification about those “drugs” I’ve been talking about, which I have always enjoyed as a chance to do my part in reducing the misunderstanding surrounding psychedelics. I’m sure there are people in my environment who don’t understand or appreciate the topic, but I haven’t gotten any significant negative responses.

Although my parents don’t fully understand my fascination with psychedelics, they fully accept my decisions and sometimes even ask me about my experiences.

A client of mine from over ten years ago saw me mentioning something about psychedelics online, resonated with it from a different perspective, and ended up contacting (and hiring) me again.

I have met some of the most loving, open-minded, and grounded people I know in the context of psychedelics (at events, conferences, online conversations, retreats)

Wanting to start a business in psychedelics

This section will be by far the most vulnerable for me, the one where I carry a lot of self-judgment and sense of embarrassment. But this too needs to be shared, and I’m certain I’m not alone with this either.

After exploring a relatively wide range of psychedelics relatively quickly, I was amazed by what they could do, and I soon started playing with the idea of starting a business related to psychedelics. I had my doubts from the start, wondering whether I wanted to “commercialize” something arguably sacred, and whether I wanted to risk my own relationship with psychedelics. The idea kept nagging at me, and I got a lot of external signals that led me to finally start working on it in the beginning of 2019.

I tried on different directions but found it very hard to find a legal and value-aligned business model outside of the medical/therapy world. I also surely didn’t put in enough effort and resources. Now it is early 2020, and I have decided to not pursue it any further.

Perhaps much of my desire to have a business in psychedelics was based on the chance to get in early, while the topic is still new in mainstream culture, and because of the potential I see to change human consciousness on a global level by making safe and legal psychedelic experiences more accessible. I still see business opportunities related to psychedelics, but I have concluded that they are not for me at this point in my life. And I celebrate this decision and the weight it lifts off my shoulders.

I do however want to share my personal experiences with the world, as well as have an article to point to when people ask me about psychedelics – which is part of the reason I am writing this post.

Outlook

I believe that psychedelics, when used safely and intentionally, have incredible potential for healing and personal growth.

They were once criminalized out of misunderstanding, fear, and political reasons – bearing the “risk” of turning people into ungovernable, awakened minds who prioritize happiness, love, and community over consumerism. On a large scale, this would fundamentally threaten our current political and economic systems.

In the last few years, research has shown very promising results using psychedelics to heal PTSD, depression, and addiction, and many more studies are currently underway or planned. In the US, MDMA is on track to be legalized for therapeutic use by the end of 2021. Psilocybin and other countries might follow suit soon. We have also seen a wave of decriminalization efforts of all or natural psychedelics (such as plants and mushrooms) throughout the US and other countries.

What the West has recently been discovering as “breakthrough medicine” has been known by some cultures for millennia. I believe that more attention needs to be given to the indigenous peoples worldwide who have been using entheogens for thousands of years to commune with nature, heal illness, and source wisdom (book recommendation: “Tales of a Shaman’s Apprentice” – even though the focus is on non-hallucinogenic medicinal plants, it provides a great insight into the medicine men of the Amazon).

I see and have been part of a growing subculture of young leaders and entrepreneurs where psychedelic use is wide-spread and seen in close relation to spirituality, creativity, and even productivity. In the mainstream however, there is still a lot of stigma and misunderstanding around psychedelics, even though they have become more talked about and accepted.

I am deeply grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to work with the plants and other psychedelics. I have found an immeasurable growth and healing in this work and it has also been very enjoyable (there were difficult times too, of course). I see a lot more plant medicine in my own future too – as a guide on my path, as a reminder of what truly matters, helping me remember who and what I really am.

For we are never finished but always complete.