Amber Lyon is an Emmy award winning investigative journalist who quit working for CNN after she was unable to air a segment about human rights abuses in Bahrain. She has since taken an interest in psychedelics after having discovered their therapeutic benefits.
While working as an investigative journalist, she wasn’t one of those pretend investigative “embedded” journalists who worked from the safety of a protected set. She got out into the field and witnessed the suffering of the people personally and put herself in harm’s way. As a result, she started suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Wary of prescription drugs, she discovered the potential healing power of psychedelics as a guest speaker on a Joe Rogan Experience podcast. She tells the whole story in her article, How Psychedelics Saved My Life, on her new website, reset.me. It’s well worth reading, so please do.
As one who came of age in the sixties, I’m well aware of psychedelics. A semi-hippy, I experimented with LSD, peyote and psilocybin, but only one time each. I learned a lot from each of them, but grew disenchanted with the hippy scene for a variety of reasons. The three main reasons why I switched from psychedelics to yoga and meditation were:
- Too many were tripping for the high instead of the insights psychedelics have to offer.
- Psychedelics became commercialised.
- Hippies were becoming self-proclaimed gurus after taking psychedelics.
The final straw came after my sister was sent home from college with schizophrenia and then a high school acquaintance of hers committed suicide after coming down from an LSD trip and seeing how shallow and selfish her life had been. In retrospect, I think I over-reacted. It wasn’t the drugs that caused these adverse (to put it mildly) reactions, but the lack of support and proper preparation.
If Amber Lyon’s website is anything to go by, perhaps this generation has learned from our mistakes. Amber repeatedly stresses the therapeutic benefits of ayahuasca, psilocybin and other psychedelics and emphasises the importance of the support system when taking them. If this is the case, maybe, just maybe, the psychedelic renaissance in America may turn out to have long term benefits for both those who take them and society as a whole. That’s a big maybe, though. Reading between the lines in the articles on Amber Lyon’s website and elsewhere, I’m still troubled by a few things:
- Ayahuasca, ibogaine and other psychedelics seem to have become commercialised again.
- When Westerners get involved in indigenous cultures, we usually do more harm than good.
- Proponents are turning to science to justify their use and explain how they work.
On the first point: as soon as money is involved, those who care less or not at all about helping others get involved. Many of them are very good at selling their “services” and Americans are particularly gullible targets.
Psilocybin originally became popularised in America in the 1950s, thanks to a 1957 article in Life magazine by Gordon Wasson. By 1967, hundreds of hippies were going to Oaxaca to experiment with psilocybin. Maria Sabina originally was sympathetic towards the new visitors, some of whom included rock stars like Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Bob Dylan and John Lennon. Later, she and her community came to regret welcoming the onslaught of Westerner seekers. This is what Wikipedia has to say about it and I’ve read even more harrowing stories in other accounts:
While she was initially hospitable to the truth seekers thronging to her, their lack of respect for the sacred and traditional purposes caused María Sabina to remark:
“Before Wasson, nobody took the children simply to find God. They were always taken to cure the sick.”
As the community was besieged by Westerners wanting to experience the mushroom induced hallucinations, Sabina attracted attention by the Mexican police who thought that she sold drugs to the foreigners. The unwanted attention completely altered the social dynamics of the Mazatec community and threatened to terminate the Mazatec custom. The community blamed Sabina, and she was ostracized in the community and had her house burned down.
My concerns about using science as a selling point (even if you’re not strictly trying to “sell” psychedelics) is that science is god in the Western world, but knows nothing about spiritual realities.
While writing about her experiences with ayahuasca, Amber mentions in passing that the brew contains two plant species. In another article on the site, Five Mind-Blowing Facts about Ayahuasca, “admin” (Amber?) writes: “Natives, who’ve been using the brew for hundreds of years, say it was the plants that showed them how to make ayahuasca.” A lot of ayahuasca advocates mention this, but no one really considers the implications.
I didn’t either, until I met my wife, Sopheak, who lived in the jungles of Cambodia for much of her early life. For a couple of years, between the ages of about 8 and 10, she lived alone in the jungle. How did she survive? By intuition and a little help from spirits. On one occasion, a spirit appeared before her in human form and told her how to staunch the blood and heal a nasty gouge on her Achilles tendon she got from a bomb shard. On many occasions, when she needed medicine for an ailment, she found the right one simply by turning her back and feeling the leaves on plants and trees until the right medicine revealed itself to her. There was nothing mystical or magical about any of this. It was perfectly natural to her. It’s only magical to us because of the chasm we have created between ourselves and reality.
The spirit world is real to people who haven’t been overly exposed to Western culture. Even those of us who respect the wisdom of indigenous cultures don’t quite get it that we have lost touch with that world and the world of nature. We don’t know how to learn from nature, intuition or spirits, even when we believe it’s possible. We learn from books, videos and podcasts. We still look to science for answers, but does the “discovery” that
add or detract from our real knowledge about the substance? I would argue that it detracts, because it turns our attention back to the shadows on the wall in Plato’s cave. In the cave allegory, prisoners are chained to the floor and all they can see are shadows cast by those passing across a bridge behind them, which is illuminated by a fire. If, after visiting the spirit worlds on ayahuasca, you come back down to earth and go back to believing a chemical is responsible for happiness or well being, you’ve gone back to looking at shadows.
That said, so far, I still respect Amber Lyon. She seems to have enough humility to simply be sharing her experiences and belief in the healing power of natural medicines (including psychedelics) and not setting herself up as an authority or guru. As far as I can see, she’s not in it for profit and she respects indigenous cultures. That’s all good, but the same can be said for the early psychedelic explorers of the fifties. It all unravelled when psychedelics became a fad and the medicines that had so much potential fell into the wrong hands. Remember, as Charles Manson so dramatically showed us; there are good spirits and there are bad spirits. Please, Amber, do what you can to keep the bad spirits away.