The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide by James Fadiman


  1. Fadiman explores the beneficial uses of psychedelics, how to use them safely for spiritual, therapeutic or problem solving uses. Fadiman truly believes, and makes a compelling point, that becoming more aware of these drugs and the insights they can bring is one’s birthright. This book highlighted research that has been conducted and a wide array of experiences which indicate many positive effects if done in the right set and setting, with the appropriate dosage and a trusted and knowledgeable guide.
Key Takeaways:
  1. Research, although limited since banned in the late ’60s, has indicated that psychedelics have many beneficial uses (improved relationships, self-esteem, etc) and lasting effects
  2. Over 75% of people who used psychedelics reported that it was one of the most important experiences of their lives
  3. If not used properly, psychedelics can be very dangerous. It is extremely important to have the following:
    • Set – Feel positive and well prepared
    • Setting – have a private, safe, comfortable setting
    • Substance – have appropriate dose from a trusted source
    • Session – be prepared and positive for coming session
    • Guide – have a trusted and knowledgeable guide
  4. Theories have developed that those who first ingested some of these substances helped spur civilization
What I got out of it:
  1. This was a world that I had no prior knowledge about so it was fascinating to learn a bit more about these type of experiences,  its history, and some of the serious science behind these drugs.

Part 1 – Transcendent Experience: Ethneogenic Sessions
  • Having a guide, a supportive environment and enough of the psychedelic material lead 78% of people to describe it as the best experience of their lives
  • This section should be used to increase spiritual understanding and to minimize negative experiences
  • 6 primary factors that most affect the nature and value of these experiences – set (expectations of the voyager and guide), setting, substance and quantity (dose), sitter and guide, session (time for voyage, between 6-12 hours), and situation (post experience integration)
  • Often don’t discover “something completely new, alien or foreign but a reuniting with an unassailable clarity that had been latent in one’s mind”
  • Importance of a guide cannot be overstated – someone who supports you and advise you during the voyage
  • Often experience a reuniting of one’s self with an eternal flow of energies and understandings
  • “Our normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness as we call it, is but one special type of consciousness…no account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves those other forms of consciousness quite disregarded” – William James
  • 3 day process before the voyage
    • Day one – be quiet and unhurried
    • Day two – is for the voyage
    • Day three – take time to integrate the experience and record your discoveries and insights
  • Clarify personal preconceptions about psychedelic experiences and your understanding of mystical experiences
  • The following may occur: cascading geometric forms and colors, alteration of felt time, finding self in a different reality, being in a different body of either sex, becoming an animal/plant/microorganism, experiencing own birth
  • Keep breathing slow and deep as this helps to dissolve barriers
  • Write out what you hope to learn, experience, understand or resolve before the voyage
  • Prerequisites of a guide are to be compassionate, loving, kind, intuitive, open, present and centered
  • Thoughts to consider – in versus out, music (classical tends to be popular – Requiem by Faure, Mysterious Mountains by Hovhaness), incense)
  • At least some of the time during the voyage should be spent with eyes closed
  • Doses
    • 150-400 mcg LSD is a normal dose
    • 1 mcg LSD = 1 to 2 milligrams mescaline
    • 30 milligrams psilocybin is a “safe high dose”
  • Stages
    • Ingesting – relax, listen to music, observe breathing, notice how music is affecting you, do not try to control the flow of thoughts/images, lie down
    • Initial onset (20-50 minutes) – effects are taking hold, if still walking around and conversing give second dose (about half of initial dose), spiritual journey begins before the second hour is over
    • Opening and letting go (3-4 hours) – let go of expectations, personal concerns/issues, feelings, personal identity, experience deep awareness of other dimensions, dissolving of boundaries
    • Plateau (1-2 hours) – music is optional (especially classical, Bach B-minor suite), sit up, check in with guide, focus on music if on, tell and talk to guide about what experienced
    • Gentle glide (3 hours) – eat simple foods, drink a lot of water, go outside and explore as you are in a state of detachment, look at a rose or mirror and focus on your eyes, look at pictures, sit in silence, listen to music, review goals or questions
    • End of the formal session – ends 6-8 hours after taking a shorter acting substance (psilocybin) or 8-10 hours after taking a longer acting substance (LSD, mescaline), go over experiences, no need to be social, major events will stay with you consciously or unconsciously, eat lightly and drink enough water, avoid caffeine
    • Post-experience integration – in the first few weeks take time to distill out what matters most to you from the experience, no need to describe to others your experience or that you took the voyage
  • The more profound the experience, the longer you should wait to do it again – a minimum of 6 months
  • Stages and feelings during voyage – slowing down of time, awareness of polarity (things are explicitly one), awareness of relativity (you are a link in an infinite hierarchy of beings), awareness of eternal energy in the form of intense white light (nothing to worry about for you are this eternal energy of the universe)
  • Other people, going about their business on the streets, seem to be slightly crazy, failing to realize that the whole point of life is to be fully aware of it as it happens
  • Sermon of the Mount – “Be not anxious for the morrow…” The truth is that people who live for the future are, as we say of the insane, “not quite all there” and also not quite here – by overeagerness they are perpetually missing the point. Foresight is bought at the price of anxiety and when overused destroys all its own advantages
  • “Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose” – Jean Baptiste Alphonse Karr (the more things change, the more things stay the same)
  • Albert Hoffman, who first synthesized LSD, was also the first to experience it. He said that every sound transformed into an optical figure and each noise produced a corresponding colored figure
  • Our entire universe is contained in the mind and the spirit
  • I was basically in charge of what I could perceive and think about, but I was not bound by external force but rather made choices that determine the extent and quality of my awareness
  • The most important thing about that first experience was that for the first time in my life I knew what the word “beauty” meant.” – Charles Tart
Part 2 – Personal Growth and Self-Exploration
  • Psychedelics often have very powerful and very real effects on people with mental illness and physical disorders – often alleviating them of their problems altogether
  • “Months or years of conventional therapy had been compressed into a single high-dose day or a series of lower-dose sessions”
  • Psychedelics have been used to help with dying cancer patients, PTSD, alcoholism, and autism
  • If you know what you’re doing, if you’ve been careful in who you are with, if the setting is good, the substance is pure and the preparation has been taken seriously, there is little chance of anything going wrong. However, life is way more uncertain than that and things can go very wrong
  • Gives tips on how to help those having a bad trip – ask them if you can hold their hand, tell them that thousands have gone through this and just to relax and they’ll be fine, change the setting if possible, tell them to breathe, eye contact if they are not too paranoid, wrap them in a warm blanket
  • Myths – adulterants are rarely added to LSD (strychnine), tattoo LSD is a hoax, does not cause chromosomal damage, very few long term effects and if there are, they tend to be in people who had psychological disorders prior to using LSD, there is zero evidence that LSD remains in the body for extended periods of time
  • For Fadiman’s dissertation, he tested the long term behavior changes of people who had ingested a psychedelic and found that most changes were improvements that reflected increased self-worth, reduced anxiety and lessened feelings of inadequacy
Part 3 -Enhanced Problem Solving
  • Psychedelics have been used to boost creativity and help people solve some of their major problems – Steve Jobs and computers, Crick used LSD to imagine the double helix for DNA
  • Helps creativity by – lowering inhibition/anxiety, ability to restructure problem in a larger context, enhanced fluidity and flexibility of ideation, heightened capacity for visual imagery and fantasy, increased ability to concentrate, heightened empathy with external processes and objects, heightened empathy with people, subconscious data more accessible, association of dissimilar ideas, heightened motivation to obtain closure, visualizing the completed solution
  • The more the problem matters to you the more likely you can come across an answer during the voyage
  • Ordinary dreams are often difficult to remember. in this case my memory is vivid, but everyday words cannot convey fantastic thoughts
  • When have a problem in mind, find that you make better decisions faster and that the “cobwebs” are gone
  • “…I sorely resented the time it took to make notes to myself. My hand did not move any faster than usual and I became very impatient with it. I even resented the time it took to reach for a sharp pencil”
  • “I learned that whatever I was able to do that day was not because of the drug, but because the drug allowed me to function in a way that I was capable all along of functioning, without the usual frictions we encounter”
  • “I could hear and feel the heartbeat of my guide and it was me and I was it. The room breathed and it was I. My eyes opened and we shimmered in shining spectrum”
  • “I saw that the personality of man is like layer upon layer of glass. The specific vision was of irregular but cleanly geometric pieces, each behind the other into infinity. Each piece of glass was attached on pivots at the top and bottom. At any place, if any piece were turned slightly it would reflect an external picture and, like a mirror, block any further vision inside. I knew, with deep regret, that most of us have many pieces turned askew”
  • “Normally, I would overlook many more trivial points for the sake of expediency, but under the drug, time seemed unimportant. I faced every possibly questionable issue square in the face.”
  • LSD research ended in 1966 and the drug became illegal in 1970
  • “What we found out was that the love is there, forgiveness is there, and the understanding and compassion are there. But like water to a fish or air to a bird, it is there, all around us, and exists without any effort on our part. There is no need for the Father, the Son, the Buddha, the Saints, the Torah, the books, the bells, the candles, the priests, the rituals or even the wisdom. It is just there – so pervasive and so unending that it is impossible to see as long as you are in the smaller world of people separated from one another. No wonder enlightenment is always a crime.”
Part 4 – New Horizons
  • Sub-perceptual doses of about 10 mcg act like a cognitive enhancer without the side effects of larger doses
  • Shamanism in general and ayahuasca in particular are growing in importance, partly because lawsuits for ayahuasca’s religious use are being settled in its favor and partly because of its reported healing properties for cancer and other serious conditions
  • Micro-dosing
    • Be conservative in following the protocol, including the amount and the days between doses (between 6-12 mcg every 3 to 4 days)
    • Stick with normal sleep, eating and working patterns
    • Be very discreet as to whom you let know
    • 4 effects – physical, emotional, creative and spiritual
      1. Physical – more energy that you can use for everyday activities and can be combined with coffee if needed
      2. Emotional – very easy to appreciate everyone and everything in life
      3. Creative – enter a flow state and time passes quickly and you produce good work
      4. Spiritual – it becomes easy to see how everything is connected
    • Expectations about what is possible grows
    • Feel extremely connected to your body
    • There has to be enough space in the mind’s “busy-ness” to notice the subtleties, to feel the softening of the heart, and to catch the insights as they arise
  • The trend moving forward is very positive – barriers are being knocked down and as the new generation is taking power, their more open or less obscured view of psychedelics will eventually shine through
Part 5 – The Necessary, the Extraordinary
  • Checklists:
    • General:
      • Feel good about guide and that you can trust each other
      • Clarify personal preconceptions about psychedelics, mystical experiences, cosmic consciousness, God, etc.
      • Find an appropriate guide
      • Set your intention and tell the guide
      • Have 3 full days to set aside for the experience – prepare, session, integrate
    • 1 Week Before
      • No commitments on day of voyage
      • Set – Feel positive and well prepared and have a good understanding of what you can come to expect
      • Sit quietly in preparation, be in touch with thoughts/feelings, be prepared to have highly unusual experiences
      • Setting – have a private, safe, comfortable setting, music, pillows, headphones, water, no external interruptions, mirror, flowers, dress warm and comfortably,
      • Substance – have appropriate dose from a trusted source, lie down quietly for the first half hour until it takes effect,
      • Session – be prepared and positive for coming session, eat lightly or not at all before session, let go of expectations and personal concerns, allow physical boundaries to dissolve, ask for guide’s help if needed and be prepared to reintegrate toward the end of the session
    • Post-Session
      • Eat a light meal, wait at least 6 months before next voyage
      • Try to work through what you have experienced and understand what has changed within you
  • We do not live on the Earth; we are the Earth. We are not separate and we will suffer until we realize this, at which time our true healing begins
  • Discusses Lindsey Vona who went on a 14 day Darkness Retreat and what she experienced during it. Detaching from herself and realizing that life and death are only concepts, she no longer identifies with her body or this world, complete Buddha energy
  • In research that has been done with psychedelics, many positive results have followed – physically, emotionally, spiritually, more vivid/profound dreams, increased satisfaction with relationships/marriages and work, were slightly healthier and enjoyed better overall health
  • People who use psychedelics are more likely to “detribalize” and form new institutions. They don’t feel as attached to their religion, race, background, etc. and are more open to others

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