I'm thrilled to share my empowering dialogue with Sean Lawlor, a licensed counselor and author of the forthcoming book Psychedelic Revival who joined me from Fort Collins, Colorado. His master's research focused on mindfulness, psychedelic therapy, and training in MDMA-assisted psychotherapy.
As a long-time advocate for the healing potential of psychedelics, I strive to paint an honest picture of both their benefits and risks. That's why Sean's work immediately resonated with me. He's written about the concerning trend of "psychedelic bypassing" - when our movement ignores adverse effects or unethical behaviors to protect psychedelics' public image.
Sean bravely calls out the tendency to avoid transparent discussion of psychedelic risks – along with their tremendous healing potential. His article covers disturbing examples like facilitators justifying abuse, dismissive reactions to those who question microdosing claims, and the role of spiritual bypassing and "guru syndrome" in covering up harms.
Like Sean, I believe it's absolutely vital that we openly discuss psychedelic risks rather than hide them like Big Pharma does. That's why I'm authoring a book on the topic and sought Sean out for this interview. We share a commitment to transparently covering adverse effects in service of this renaissance.
Sean recounts the tragic story of a man's death at an intensive ayahuasca retreat, where he apparently never returned to ordinary consciousness after excessive ceremonies. We also hear of a woman who underwent a months-long psychotic break after just two ketamine experiences. These are outliers, to be sure, but demonstrate the serious risks improper use can pose.
My 50 years of psychedelic research confirm they remain powerful tools requiring great care and wisdom. While adverse effects are rare with mindful use, we must educate people on the potential risks to make informed decisions.
I hope you'll listen as Sean and I explore why transparency about psychedelic hazards is vital, especially amid today's opening of research and access. We discuss the factors that can trigger adverse reactions, how to improve safety, and why avoidance enables further harm.
Preparation and integration are key to ensuring these substances benefit rather than impair lives. That's why I'm also collecting stories from those who've experienced adverse effects or dishonest guides. If you have one to share, please email it to email@example.com.
Together we can create an honest understanding of these powerful tools.
In psychedelic community,
Dr. Richard Louis Miller
Why transparency about psychedelic risks is vital to protect participants and advance the field ethically
How certain leaders justify unethical actions through "spiritual bypassing" and "guru syndrome" mentalities
Why backlash often meets those who raise concerns about adverse effects or problems in the community
How to navigate the tricky line between moral relativism and speaking up about clear harms
Why anger is an essential emotion for calling out issues, not "bad energy" to transcend
How psychedelics can amplify problems as well as healing if deep issues remain unresolved
How to uphold ethics and participant safety amid wider decriminalization and demand for psychedelic guidance
Sean Lawlor's article "Psychedelic Bypassing: The Many Ways The Mind Can Excuse Abuse, Ignore The Darker Sides of Ourselves, Categorize Emotions Into Little Boxes of “Good” and “Bad,” and Cast Aside Anything Deemed “Lesser Than”
Psychedelic Revival by Sean Lawlor
Spiritual Bypassing: When Spirituality Disconnects Us from What Really Matters by Robert Augustus Masters
MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies)
Seeking Psychedelic Testimonials: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
We are currently looking for first-hand accounts of adverse effects of psychedelics—from ‘bad trips,’ to unwanted physiological complications, to abusive practices by guides, therapists, and shamans.
The interviews from this series will go into a forthcoming book on the topic—perhaps the first book its kind.
Please contact me if you would like to be interviewed.
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NOTE: The podcast is always freely available thanks to our paid subscribers. Please share this post to show your support for transparency. The following transcript distills the key points from this show into a condensed form. It is meant as a reference - listen to the full episode for an accurate rendition of the conversation.
Dr. Richard Miller: Welcome to Mind, Body, Health, and Politics. I'm your host, Dr. Richard Louis Miller. The mission of Mind, Body, Health, and Politics is to enhance your physical and emotional well-being and encourage community. I say encourage community because I believe that living in community is the richest, most effective, and healthiest way for us human beings to live. We are basically tribal animals—we enjoy being together and doing activities together, from sewing circles to poker games to football games to theater. One thing we love doing together is eating—we love gathering in small or even large groups and eating together.
Human beings are basically cooperative, collaborative animals. However, we must always remain aware that there is a small percentage of us who are very different—extremely different. These people are predators and dominators. Rather than have us be citizens, they would have us be subjects. You can go back in history and see them in ancient Egypt, where 1% of pharaohs ruled 99% of the population. You can move forward in history to Genghis Khan, Caesar, who ended the republican experiment in ancient Rome and turned it into an empire, Napoleon, Mussolini, Hitler. Nowadays there are Bolsonaro and Trump.
These are all people who would prefer to be dictatorial, to be tyrants—that is what they are comfortable with. They believe the strongest and most powerful should rule the rest of us. But that is not the way the rest of us feel. When we overthrew King George and overthrew domination by the church—remember, kings ruled in cooperation with the church by what was called divine right—we went against not only the king but the church.
What we did accomplish was that we became citizens in an experiment we are still undertaking called a democracy and a republic—a democracy where each person gets one vote, and a republic where we are all equal before the law. But we don't have that forever, folks. That is something we must maintain. We must be aware and get out and vote to make sure we keep our democracy and republic. In the words of one of my great heroes, Thomas Jefferson: “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”
On today’s episode of Mind, Body, Health, and Politics, it is my privilege to have with us Sean Lawlor. I believe Sean is joining us from Fort Collins, Colorado. Is that right, Sean?
Sean Lawlor: Yes, that’s right.
Dr. Richard Miller: Tell us what’s on your radar screen nowadays, Sean. What’s filling up your consciousness?
Sean Lawlor: As you were talking in that interesting introduction about power-hungry tyrannical people—mentioning King George and the divine right of kings—it made me think of the mentality of the American colonists in relation to the expansionism and treatment of some of the indigenous people of North America through the idea of manifest destiny.
It was interesting to think of it as a continuation in some respects of domination directed toward others. That history of mistreatment of indigenous people in North America has been heavy on my mind lately, particularly now as I’ve become involved in the psychedelic world. Conversations about indigenous rights frequently come up, and I’m working on finishing my first book. It’s going through copyediting now. In writing about peyote in particular and the conflicts surrounding it in the psychedelic world, I was propelled to learn more about that history.