'But what are you for?'
Ecstatic Integration and the art of constructive criticism
This is the latest Sunday Brunch, our weekly round-up of interesting articles on psychedelic and ecstatic integration, ethics and harm reduction. We’ve moved it to Tuesdays. If you have strong feelings about this either way, let us know!
We get a lot of positive feedback for Ecstatic Integration, which we launched in September 2022, but we also sometimes receive criticism, and we take that seriously too. Sometimes, readers have said we focus too much on the negatives in psychedelic culture or New Age spirituality, and don’t celebrate the positives. We’ve been accused of libel, fear-mongering, pandering to the prohibitionists, and even making bad trips more likely to happen by talking about them!
It is in, a fair criticism of critical voices: what exactly are you for? So let’s define that briefly, before we share this week’s links for paid subscribers.
We launched the Challenging Psychedelic Experiences Project in September 2022 because we felt the research and wider conversation on psychedelics was overwhelmingly positive, and there was a lack of research or discussion about harms and risks. It’s true that most people have positive or neutral experiences on psychedelics, but it also appears from emerging research that 10-20% have negative experiences or enduring difficulties, and there’s no way that 10-20% of psychedelic articles are about harms or risks.
Our main aim was to produce peer-reviewed academic research on harms, especially extended difficulties after trips. We produced our first paper in January 2023, on short-term integration challenges after a psilocybin retreat; and our second paper was recently launched in pre-print, the most comprehensive article yet on extended difficulties after psychedelic experiences. We have another paper coming out on what people said helped them cope with these difficulties, and we’re also producing a deeper dive into one of the most commonly reported difficulties - existential confusion. That’s all in our first year of operations, which I think is pretty good.
There’s now more research appearing on harms, but we have a long way to go - there wasn’t a single panel on psychedelic harms at Psychedelic Science, the biggest ever psychedelic conference. There are many forms of psychedelic harm on which there’s not a single paper written. Likewise there’s hardly any papers on what empirically helps people with extended difficulties.
You can help us. We may seek crowd-funding for particular pieces of research looking at particular issues, such as derealization or long-term difficulties (ie those that last three years or longer). Let me know if you think there are specific difficulties we should look at and if you’d be interested in helping to fund us.
I started this newsletter as a side-project really, but it takes up more and more of my time, because I enjoy it - both commissioning writers like Joseph Holcomb Adams and Ed Prideaux, and writing articles myself. I like learning about new topics - before last week, I knew nothing about penny-stocks and thought ‘pump ‘n dump’ was something that happened on Love Island.
I admit that I can have a rather dark view of human nature. I am less likely to write about Captain Tom walking round his house for the NHS, more likely to write about his family using the proceeds to build a swimming pool. But I should be careful not to be too negative in our coverage of psychedelics and spirituality, and remember what we’re for and what we celebrate. I am, beneath all my cynicism, a spiritual hippy who is grateful for the life-changing ecstatic experiences he has had.
Our mission is to improve western culture’s ‘ecstatic literacy’ - by which we mean the wise re-integration of ecstatic experiences back into western culture. We think ecstatic experiences are a normal part of human experience, and often good for us, but not always. We believe in trying to promote good ethics and wise discrimination with regard to ecstatic practices, and occasionally highlighting human folly and vice in the spiritual marketplace. We’ve been quite focused on psychedelic culture and industry this first year, but our remit is the integration of ecstatic experiences and practices in general - including sex, meditation, extreme sports, VR, spontaneous experiences and so on.
We are reader-supported both in subscriptions and in ideas - our best stories come from you. If you think there’s something we should cover, email me at email@example.com, and we will do our best to look into it. OK, after the paywall, the US Treasury Secretary lunches on magic mushrooms, and how medieval monks dealt with distraction.
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