A bottle of CBD oil for anxiety


CBD as a treatment for social anxiety





Cannabis has been used as a treatment for anxiety and depression for ages, and since medical marijuana has been legalized in many places it now often comes with a doctor’s recommendation. However in some patients – especially at high doses – cannabis can have an adverse effect, triggering anxiety and even panic. This is mostly due to THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana. 

CBD, or cannabidiol, is the non-psychoactive ingredient in cannabis – meaning it doesn’t get you high. It’s known as an anxiolytic and an adaptogen, relieving anxiety and stress through a few different mechanisms.

A few recent studies – which I’ll review here – have found CBD to be effective in treating social anxiety. CBD is also being investigated as a treatment for conditions as diverse as PTSD, addiction, and Alzheimer’s.

cbd for social anxiety

How does CBD work?

Cannabidiol appears to work in a few different ways; by supporting our body’s natural endocannabinoid system and lowering the secretion of stress hormones, activating serotonin, and attenuating the response of the amygdala, which is responsable for our fear response.

Among other functions, the endocannabinoid system regulates stress hormones. You may have heard of cortisol. It’s known to go wild in those of us susceptible to stress and anxiety, but CBD limits its secretion. That’s right, studies have found CBD to significantly decrease cortisol levels.

CBD is an endocannabinoid agonist, meaning it binds to and activates the  endocannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2. The endocannabinoid system is still not well understood, but CB1 receptors are thought to influence our mood, thought, motor activity, pain, and short-term memory. The euphoria you feel after a workout? That’s in part the result of natural stimulation of your CB1 receptors. CB2 receptors support other essential systems including the cardiovascular system, respiratory system, immune system, reproductive system, skin, and eyes.

In addition to supporting the complex endocannabinoid system, CBD binds to serotonin 1A (5-HT1A) receptors. Activation of serotonin 1A receptors is generally thought to decrease aggression, increase sociability, and reduce impulsivity, drug-seeking behavior, and food intake. Serotonin 1A receptors are targeted by antidepressant and anti-anxiety medications. A lack or dysfunction of serotonin 1A receptors is a common feature of people with panic disorders, and so in theory, CBD should also help with that more severe, sudden anxiety we know as panic as well.


Studies on CBD and social anxiety

Because of its wide range of uses, many studies have been carried out and more are underway to discover the full therapeutic potential of CBD. 

One promising use is the treatment of social anxiety. With social media replacing real life interaction, and many of us self-isolating for the past year, we’re more socially anxious than ever. Official numbers say that around 7% of Americans suffer from some form of social anxiety, however census data tells us that 37% of the population is now struggling with some form of anxiety.

So it’s worth taking a look at the research studies carried out to test the impact of CBD on social anxiety. In experiments, usually measured by having subjects complete a public speaking test, because this is a common trigger for the socially anxious.

The first study compared self-reported feelings of anxiety as well as physical symptoms in a group with social anxiety that took 600mg CBD before the public speaking test with control groups; one without social anxiety and one with social anxiety that didn’t take CBD. The study found that  the effects of CBD on social anxiety were significant; CBD substantially relieved anxiety in socially anxious participants before, during, and after the test. It also reduced symptoms of anxiety such as cognitive impairment and discomfort.

The study also measured negative self-statements after the test, finding that CBD almost completely eliminated negative self-evaluation in subjects with social anxiety.

600mg is a rather high dose of CBD. And so a more recent study set out to test the outcomes of three different doses of CBD: 150mg, 300mg, and 600mg. It found the middle dose of 300mg to be the most effective. This is a relief, because CBD is expensive!

The authors of the study speculate that 300mg of CBD was the most effective dose as a treatment for social anxiety because higher doses of CBD may trigger a paradoxical response by activating the brain’s TRPV1 receptors. This stimulates the release of glutamate, producing an excitatory response and negating some of the anxiolytic effects of the CBD (I know, the brain’s weird).

Anyway, the takeaway is that the effects of CBD as a treatment for social anxiety peak around 300mg, and there’s likely not much benefit in going higher than that. However, sensitivity to CBD is highly variable, and everyone has a different optimal dose, and doses as low as 25mg may be effective.

And it’s not just for the socially anxious; another study just published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology repeated these speaking test studies, finding that 300mg of CBD also reduced anxiety and tremors in patients with Parkinson’s disease.

All around, the findings are promising for CBD as a treatment for anxiety.

CBD is also being researched for its ability to alleviate stress, cognitive disorders, insomnia, pain, addiction, PTSD, and even schizophrenia. It’s also an anti-inflammatory and appears to have neuroprotective properties, and so is also being investigated as a treatment for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.


Where can I get it?

cbd for social anxietyCBD is now legal in all but three states: Idaho, South Dakota, and Iowa. So you may be able to find it at a local pharmacy or shop, or order it online. However because CBD is a supplement and not controlled by the FDA, quality and potency will vary. If you live in a state with legal medical marijuana, try getting a doctor´s recommendation; dispensaries may have higher quality CBD products.

If you buy online, read reviews to find a good product. Most reputable CBD sellers will make the milligram amount of a tincture available on their website or packaging.

CBD is now sold in a few different forms: CBD oil, capsules, flowers, and topical creams.

Obviously, higher percentage CBD oil of 10% or 20% will be more potent than a 2.5% or 5% tincture. Capsules will give you a more precise dose, while with flowers or topical and cosmetic products the dose will be much harder to gauge.

Everyone responds differently and the optimal dose will vary. so you may have to experiment a little at first. Check out this CBD dosage guide to see how much might be right for you.

Though doses of 300mg to 600mg were used in experiments to measure the response of the socially anxious to CBD, a fraction of that will be enough to experience beneficial results for most.

And if you’re pregnant, maybe wait a few months: a study on rats just revealed that CBD exposure during natal development increased anxiety in the offspring.


Society makes us depressed

A critique of modern, behavioral psychology



“No culture on earth is as heavily narcotized as the industrial West in terms of being inured to the consequences of maladaptive behavior. We pursue a business-as-usual attitude in a surreal atmosphere of mounting crises and irreconcilable contradictions.”===

― Terence McKenna

When you’re depressed, or “mentally ill”, the implication is that there’s something wrong with you. And usually, you feel like there is. That’s a big part of your problem.

40 million Americans suffer from some sort of anxiety disorder, and more than that report depressive symptoms. Another 40 million are at risk of eviction, at least 10 million are unemployed, and in 2019, 35 million Americans were food insecure.

Hmmmm, could these issues have something to do with each other?

It took a pandemic for the media to entertain the idea that our environment could have something to do with the way we feel.

“It’s a disease” is the accepted reason. It doesn’t exactly mean that it’s “your fault”, but what else would it be? This causes even more shame, as a depressed person often doesn’t know why they’re depressed let alone how to get out of it. To ease the guilt they’ll blame your brain chemistry, or a lack of sunlight and exercise. Of course, these can play a role.

Yet fundamentally, psychiatry and society teach us that if we’re mentally ill, there’s something wrong with us. Ultimately, people know they’re in the psychiatrist’s office because of a perceived abnormality in their feelings or behavior. That they have chemical imbalances or maladaptive thoughts implies that the individuals themselves are maladaptive. 

This also implies that we live in a society worthy of adapting to.

It discounts the legitimate reasons we have to be depressed, like the impacts of isolation, sexism, racism, or capitalism. An abusive relationship, a toxic family or school life, or financial troubles that lead to chronic stress. Or simply not having been able to live up to the cultural expectations of being a pop star – or whatever we were taught to believe meant success – when we grew up. Or even being able to move out of our parents’ basement.

Sure, changing our thinking may help us be a little less anxious, or cultivate a more positive outlook. And there’s nothing wrong with that. However these changes are superficial, individual, and usually not enough to bring lasting happiness or well-being, because they don’t address the real problem, which isn’t really you. 

Many of us are longing for something completely different; we need a better society.

Though sometimes we may find labels useful, psychological disorders and their treatments are also yet another form of social control. The conditions themselves and the stigma make you feel “less than”, and get you to internalize a sense of weakness, inadequacy, and powerlessness. Or maybe the diagnosis helps you make sense of these feelings, and knowing there are millions of others like you brings you some sense of relief. Either way, we’re all pathologized and made powerless. Then the antidepressants or antipsychotics restore your ability to function in the world, so you can get out of bed and go to your job, if you’re lucky enough to have one.



The creation of modern day psychology

In the mid-20th century, psychology changed. One change was the shift from psychoanalysis to behaviorism.

Ivan Pavlov, whose famous experiments conditioned dogs to respond to stimuli, laid the groundwork for behavioral psychology. Psychoanalysis had been the dominant psychological framework beforehand. focused on the patient’s thought process, childhood, traumas, and talk therapy, or free association that was meant to unlock the subject’s unconscious conflicts.

When it took over, behavioral psychology declared psychoanalysis “unscientific” (it’s much better to treat people like dogs). The worst bits of psychoanalysis (such as the Oedipus Complex) were used to completely undermine it. Psychoanalysis, however, at least examined the unconscious, the role of society, and some scholars were beginning to critique the role of capitalism in the human psyche and our malaise.

Behaviorism is much more insidious; do its “scientific experiments” not find more means of population control?

Just look at the classic examples we’re all given in Psych 101: the Milgrim experiment and the Stanford prison experiment are both extreme examples of social control, the latter having been funded by the US military. The Milgrim experiment examined obedience, finding that 65% of participants were willing to deliver maximum 450 volt shocks to another participant when instructed to do so by an authority.

One has to wonder what these supposedly scientific, cognitive psychology experiments have been commissioned by and used for since.

We know that psychology is often used by companies for marketing, but why wouldn’t it also be put to use by the military, the media, and the political class to their advantage?



Cognitive behavioral psychology

Almost all modern day therapy is based in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). More than understanding an individual’s past, CBT focuses on changing their behavior. It looks at how they respond to situations, and teaches them to act in ways that are more adaptive. Many of these methods draw on classical conditioning (dog training).

CBT can have real benefits and may be practical to use in some situations. However by looking no further than the individual and situation itself, this type of therapy reinforces the idea that there is something fundamentally wrong with us if we have trouble adapting.

The goal of CBT, and a lot of psychiatry and medication, is to make the individual functional in a certain context, situation, or environment. However it often neglects that the environment itself may be entirely toxic, in ways that may not even be obvious to the patient or the psychiatrist.

In response to the concept of “mental illness” and the stigma associated with psychiatric diagnoses becoming too negative, a new paradigm called “positive psychology” emerged at the turn of the millennium. It focuses on happiness, well-being, and cultivating character.

Of course, there’s value in activities that enhance our well-being. Taking care of our health, our relationships, and even positive thinking.

But is the answer to 40 million people experiencing anxiety to think more positively?


The roots of our mental health epidemic

“There must exist a paradigm, a practical model for social change that includes an understanding of ways to transform consciousness that are linked to efforts to transform structures.”

 bell hooks 


If 40 million Americans have an anxiety disorder – and those are the official numbers – then there’s something wrong with our society. Yet somehow, the individual is always made to feel there’s something wrong with them, personally, and it makes sense to them because, after all, they don’t feel well. Even if they have been victims of abuse or trauma, layoffs or evictions, or are otherwise dealing with the incredible stressors that come with poverty.

Of course, environmental factors such as nutritional deficiencies and sedentary lifestyles do play a role. However it clearly goes deeper than that. There’s little analysis or discussion of the impact of poverty and economic uncertainty on our mental well-being, or the impact of media, or isolation, or the values of our society. The individual is supposed to take “responsibility” for turning their terrible life around.

So should a homeless person be told to adjust their thought patterns, to think more positively?

They may do so, learn to think more positively, but will that help them get a job, housing, and life stability? Not if there are no jobs, or rent is higher than your paycheck! Can the homeless end homelessness by thinking more positively? No! Homelessness is structural; poverty is a function of political economy, not personal dysfunction.

Sure, anyone can benefit a bit from any type of therapy. But we are applying supposedly individual solutions to glaring social problems. When 40 million Americans are experiencing anxiety, it’s not an individual problem, it’s an environmental, cultural, and economic problem. It’s an epidemic.

It took a pandemic for the media to take note of social and economic causes of depression and anxiety. Even the Washington Post noted that the poorest 20% of Americans worry twice as much as the wealthiest 20%.

The solution, then, can’t be individual. We cannot form new thought patterns that magically create good jobs and affordable housing. We cannot think our way into universal health care. These are social and economic problems that demand political responses.

If you’re depressed and anxious, however, you’re far less likely to talk to your coworkers, let alone form a union.

What are some of the social, cultural, and economic causes of depression, anxiety, and mental health problems in our society?

Individualism, expectations, cultural norms, isolation, trauma, cultural institutions?

Why are you depressed, or anxious?

Don’t blame yourself; change the world.


Magic mushrooms are healthy

The benefits of magic mushrooms


By Katalina Lourdes


“If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is: infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.”

– William Blake


While sitting in the stairwell of my friend’s basement, I watched a photon come alive in a beam of light. When I closed my eyes, I saw God in the form of a pulsating star. This was my first experience on magic mushrooms.

As a teenager I refused to take my antidepressants on principle. I believed that my depression was trying to tell me something. I think this is often the case, that it signals a problem in your environment, though rejecting treatment risks prolonging depressive episodes, which is also bad for your brain. In retrospect I believe that my experiences with magic mushrooms resolved my depression.

A recent study compared the efficacy of psilocybin (the active ingredient in magic mushrooms) versus Lexapro, a typical SSRI, in treating depression. After six weeks of treatment, 57% of the patients who had taken psilocybin no longer met the criteria for depression, versus just 28% for the Lexapro group.

This suggests that magic mushrooms may be twice as effective as traditional anti-depressants in treating depression.

My teenage brain had been onto something. I wasn’t taking them for depression, though. It was the mystical experiences I was after. The insights gave my life more meaning and I became fascinated with psychedelics themselves.

Back then the only place to read about psychedelics was Erowid, and books that spoke of times before they were criminalized.


Psychedelic lit review


Aldous Huxley claimed that tripping opens up, or “cleanses”, the doors of perception.  In his eponymous essay, Huxley describes his first experience with mescaline in 1953:


“I was looking at my furniture, not as the utilitarian who has to sit on chairs, to write at desks and tables, and not as the cameraman or scientific recorder, but as the pure aesthete whose concern is only with forms and their relationships within the field of vision or the picture space. But as I looked, this purely aesthetic, Cubist’s-eye view gave place to what I can only describe as the sacramental vision of reality. I was… back where I had be in a world where everything shone with the Inner Light, and was infinite in its significance.”


Magic mushrooms and mescaline aren’t quite the same experience, but Huxley and I both saw the sacred in the mundane and the infinite in light. Psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, hadn’t been synthesized yet, and Huxley didn’t take it until 1960 as a part of the Harvard Psychedelic Research Project with Timothy Leary. His notes on the trip read:


“#11 sat in contemplative calm throughout; occasionally produced relevant epigrams; reported experience as an edifying philosophic experience”


Within two years of this trip, Huxley wrote Island, a novel about a utopian society in which magic mushrooms are a cornerstone and a rite of passage. The novel is the counterpoint to Huxley’s dystopian Brave New World, in which people are numbed by the drug soma. In Island, moksha instead awakens the characters. 

In the book, magic mushrooms are referred to as “the moksha-medicine, the reality revealer, the truth-and-beauty pill”. They’re central to happiness, spirituality, as well as harmonious social relations on Pala, the island utopia.


“The moksha-medicine prepares one for the reception of gratuitous graces—premystical visions or the full-blown mystical experiences. Meditation is one of the ways in which one co-operates with those gratuitous graces,” explains one of the main characters to a skeptical foreigner.


The book reads a little like a how-to guide for both building a society and using sacred plants. Huxley emphasizes meditation to tell us that psychedelics aren’t necessarily a panacea in themselves, and should be accompanied by spiritual practice.

As he concludes in The Doors of Perception:


“…the man who comes back through the Door in the Wall will never be quite the same as the man who went out.

“He will be wiser but less cocksure, happier but less self-satisfied, humbler in acknowledging his ignorance… yet better equipped to understand the relationship of words to things, of systematic reasoning to the unfathomable Mystery which it tries, forever vainly, to comprehend.”


However Island ends on a tragic, or perhaps cautionary note; the peaceful society is destroyed by a neighboring country after its oil.

In the neurobiological sense, most psychedelics work by activating serotonin receptors, promoting the neuroplasticity of existing brain cells, and possibly by stimulating neurogenesis–the growth of new brain cells. With these changes, our brains become more flexible, more open to new perspectives, able to think in new ways, solve old problems, and form new habits.

It isn’t simply a cognitive process, however. It’s through mystical experiences that we’re transformed, and may find meaning and empathy that will help us in our daily lives.

Therapy or spiritual practices like meditation, and even journaling can reinforce the insights and transformational effects of psychedelics, integrating our experience. Exercise and nutrition also play a role in the overall health, plasticity, and mental resiliency of our brain. With time, however, new neural pathways often turn into old habits, and we tend to lose plasticity.

Of course, you can take them again to renew their effects. In Island, characters take moksha periodically throughout their lives, and the message is that so should we. One character uses it to deal with their grief after losing her spouse. As he himself was dying, Huxley asked his wife, Laura, to inject him with LSD.


The history of magic mushrooms


There’s some evidence that humans have been using magic mushrooms for at least 6,000 years. In the book Food of the Gods the psychonaut philosopher Terence McKenna speculates that they even played a role in human evolution, particularly our development of language. Based on what we’re now learning about how it works in the brain, he may have been right.

Artwork as well as records kept by Spanish monks indicate that magic mushrooms were used extensively by the Aztecs. Their word for the plant, teōnanācatl, means “divine mushroom”. They were also used in Mayan civilization and throughout Central America going back at least 3,500 years, and are still used by some indigenous groups in the region. Of the over 200 mushroom species that contain psilocybin, 54 can be found in Mexico. 

Magic mushrooms were introduced to the West by the mycologist and banker R. Gordon Wasson, who travelled to Mexico in search of them in 1956. The trip was funded by the CIA; Wasson was an unwitting participant in their MK-Ultra program. A Mazatec sage named Maria Sabina included Wasson and his wife in a velada, or traditional magic mushroom ritual. Wasson wrote an article about his experience for Life magazine, and went on to write a book which revealed Sabina’s name and location. Soon after, hippies began flooding her Oaxaca village. The impacts on her community eventually led her to be ostracized from it; her house burned down.

So far the history of magic mushrooms is one of the destruction of civilizations that held them sacred.

Albert Hoffman, the chemist who discovered LSD in 1943, isolated and synthesized psilocybin in 1958.

Research was carried out throughout the 1950s and 60s into the therapeutic uses of both psilocybin and LSD, which showed promise for resolving psychological problems, notably alcoholism. Psilocybin was even marketed by Hofmann’s employer, Sandoz Laboratories, and sold in pharmacies under the brand name Indocybin for a decade until psychedelics were outlawed in the US in 1970.

Along with marijuana, psychedelics were designated as Schedule 1 substances, with “high addictive potential” and “no medical use”. Investigation into their therapeutic uses ceased, and the drug war ensued.

As Nixon’s domestic policy chief, John Ehrlichman, admitted , the drug war was never really about the drugs:


“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders. raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”


Now, after 50 years of prohibition, we’re in a “psychedelic renaissance”. Psychologists, psychiatrists, and the market are finally acknowledging the positive role that psilocybin and other psychedelics can play in our mental health. In the past decade, clinical research has demonstrated incredible rates of success in relieving symptoms of a range of disorders including depression, anxiety, OCD, PTSD, and addiction, which I briefly review below.

The existing body of research is small but growing rapidly. There’s talk of decriminalization in more cities and states, and descheduling at the federal level that would open the doors to mainstream therapeutic use.

Yet there are figures like Wasson seeking to personally profit from the use of these substances, at the expense of accesibility to those who need them most. Before even emerging from Schedule 1 status, corporations are trying to control the magic mushroom experience. With therapeutic use likely to be approved by the FDA within the next couple of years – and one company trying to dominate the market – we have yet to see how the use of psilocybin for therapeutic purposes will play out.



Research on the benefits of magic mushrooms


The first study to establish the value of magic mushrooms after limited research was reauthorized by the FDA in 1992 was carried out by Dr. Roland Griffiths at Johns Hopkins University in 2000. The results, published in 2006, paved the way for further psychedelic research.

The experiment was meant to assess the ability of psilocybin to induce mystical experiences, and a high dose was administered to a small sample of healthy adults who regularly engaged in religious or spiritual practices. Two-thirds of the volunteers rated the experience among the top five meaningful experiences of their lives. 

These findings were replicated in a 2011 follow up study, in which participants who took four doses of psilocybin in a supported environment showed improved attitudes, mood, and social relationships in follow ups both two and 14 months later, demonstrating the long-term benefits of magic mushrooms. In this study, 78% of participants said that the psilocybin sessions were among the top five meaningful experiences of their lives, and 94% said the same in a follow up 14 months later. None of the volunteers reported negative consequences resulting from the experiences.

The improved results in this second study likely had to do with repeated trips; each participant had four sessions. They found that the most effective distribution of the doses was from lowest to highest dose. The researchers also further optimized set and setting, providing each participant with eight hours of preparation.

At the 14 month follow up, participants were asked to describe how the psilocybin experiences had impacted their lives. Here are some of their responses:


“I have a stronger desire for devotion, have increased yoga practice and prayer. I have better interaction with close friends and family and with acquaintances and strangers… I feel more certain of my career as an author. I need less food to make me full. My alcohol use has diminished dramatically… I consider myself to be better [at self-care] now than before the study…”


“I feel that I relate better in my marriage. There is more empathy – a greater understanding of people and understanding their difficulties and less judgment. Less judging of myself too.”


“I am more aware and accepting [of everyone]. I have a thousand ideas to write about and am making time and space in my life to accommodate them.”


Magic mushrooms, depression, and anxiety


Aside from mystical experiences and benefits like creativity, researchers are in a dash to discover – and prove to regulators – the benefits of magic mushrooms for treating psychological disorders.

In a study of cancer patients published in 2016, those who took a high dose of psilocybin reported increased well-being and optimism, a higher quality of life, and lower depression and anxiety scores. Over 80% of patients continued to experience positive life changes at a six month follow up. Though in this study the patients didn’t receive therapy as a part of the experiment, they did talk about their lives beforehand and debrief their experiences afterwards with monitors. These findings have been replicated in other studies.

In a recently published study, 27 non-cancer patients with major depression were treated with psychotherapy and two sessions of psilocybin. Four weeks later, 71% had a 50% or more reduction in their depression scores, and over half of participants were in complete remission.

In another study looking at the effects of psychedelics in non-clinical contexts, users reported being less depressed or suicidal after their trips. An examination of existing data from a national survey also found lifetime psychedelic use to be negatively correlated with psychological distress and suicidal tendencies (though there was a positive correlation for other types of drug use).


Magic mushrooms and OCD


Mushrooms may also be useful in alleviating OCD. In a small study, OCD symptoms were reduced by at least 25% in 90% of participants (and by more than 50% in 67% of participants). It’s unknown how long these effects might last, as the study only measured symptoms up to 24 hours after ingestion. However in one case study,  a man found his OCD symptoms were greatly alleviated for about three weeks after consuming two grams (a moderate dose) of mushrooms.

Scientists have tested this theory in mice, finding that psilocybin reduces compulsive behavior.


Magic mushrooms and PTSD


There’s little direct so far research of psilocybin on PTSD, but what we know strongly suggests that magic mushrooms can help people who have been traumatized to heal.

Researchers tend to study effects in mice and rats first, so here we find more data. One study found that mice unlearn fear responses faster when given low doses of psilocybin, suggesting that they’re more easily able to let go of negative memories, or at least, stop being triggered by reminders of them.

A separate study looked at the impact of psilocybin on the connection between the amygdala (the area of the brain that processes fear), the visual cortex (which perceives threats in the environment), and the prefrontal cortex. Hyperconnectivity between the amygdala and visual cortex has been linked to an increase in perceived threats and anxiety, which is characteristic of people with PTSD.

The authors explain:


“the amygdala may actually determine the affective meaning of visual percepts by its effects on sensory pathways — an effect which mainly occurs subconsciously and which may be greatly amplified in psychopathological conditions, such as anxiety disorders or depression. In this context, increased [amygdala] reactivity may lead to an increased attentional focus on negatively valenced environmental or social stimuli and thus effectively blocks out the processing of positive information.”


So, the researchers found that psilocybin reduces the amygdala’s connectivity with the visual cortex in response to threat-related stimuli. Which, theoretically, means that after taking psilocybin, we perceive our environments as less threatening. This could be an important mechanism for resolving PTSD.

Back from mice to men. The Canadian Center for Mental Health Disparities has been doing important work researching the potential of psychedelics to heal racial trauma.

We commonly think about PTSD in terms of extreme, violent experiences like sexual assault or physical abuse. However many Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) experience racism throughout their lives in overt or subtle forms. Everything from systemic discrimination to microaggressions and hate crimes, negative experiences based on racism have long-term impacts that may result in PTSD.

The study surveyed BIPOC in the US and Canada who had experienced racial trauma and recently taken psychedelics in non-clinical environments. The study concluded:


“Our lab has found that a single positive experience with a psychedelic drug can help reduce stress, depression, and anxiety symptoms in Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) whose encounters with racism have had lasting harm.”


This is one of the CMHD’s first studies on the subject, however it has many more in the pipeline, so if you’re interested in psychedelics and PTSD, and especially its intersections with racial trauma, watch their page.

Psilocybin also favors positive emotional processing, and this, coupled with its tendency to promote introspection and increase neural plasticity, could help patients form new understandings of their trauma experiences. New insights, emotional breakthroughs, and perceiving the world as less threatening all make psilocybin a likely candidate for the treatment of PTSD.

Anecdotal data support these theories, with more veterans taking matters into their own hands, and reporting dramatic improvements in PTSD symptoms after taking magic mushrooms.


Magic mushrooms and addiction


Psilocybin has been found to reduce dependency on drugs and alcohol. Studies from the 1950s on the subject are typically discarded by modern science since they don’t employ current methodologies, and limited research has been carried out in the past decade, but it’s promising.

One study of 10 alcohol dependent people showed that they reduced their consumption following four weeks of psychosocial therapy and two psilocybin trips. Number of drinking days fell by 27%, and heavy drinking days fell by 26%.

An experiment with smokers was even more promising. Participants took part in a 15 week course on quitting tobacco and received four weeks of cognitive behavioral therapy. Starting at week five, they had three separate psilocybin trips. Six months later, 80% of the subjects were completely abstinent from smoking.

These were pilot studies, so it’s possible further research will discover ways to improve their efficacy as a treatment here.


Qualitative research and personal accounts


While the explosion in research is quite recent, the quantitative research produced just in the past few years into the uses of psilocybin is daunting. So it was refreshing to see that a group of researchers had taken a qualitative approach to what is ultimately a very subjective experience, using an interpretive phenomenological analysis. Meaning, they focused on how volunteers made sense of their own experiences. Thefindings may offer more insight into what it’s like to trip on psilocybin – as well as why it’s effective in relieving anxiety, depression, and PTSD and addiction – than neurobiological explanations. Here are some excerpts from the study:


“General themes found in all or nearly all transcripts included relational embeddedness, emotional range, the role of music as conveyor of experience, meaningful visual phenomena, wisdom lessons, revised life priorities, and a desire to repeat the psilocybin experience. 

“Typical themes found in the majority of transcripts included the following: exalted feelings of joy, bliss, and love; embodiment; ineffability; alterations to identity; a movement from feelings of separateness to interconnectedness… 

“Variant themes found in a minority of participant transcripts include lasting changes to sense of identity, synesthesia experiences, catharsis of powerful emotion, improved relationships after treatment, surrender or “letting go,” forgiveness, and a continued struggle to integrate experience.”


Researchers and other officials recommend taking psilocybin under professional supervision and in conjunction with therapy, though the benefits of magic mushrooms are often pronounced in its absence.

Other sources of direct experience can be found in Erowid vaults, going back to the early days of the internet. A recent account describing a four gram trip reads:


“I was seeing very interesting visuals on the walls and when I closed my eyes. My thought processes were becoming absolutely ridiculous and indescribable. I couldn’t help but find meaning in absolutely everything, as if my life were some divine narrative…

“I felt myself fading away. Everything sounded as if I was very far away. I was having a hard time understanding anyone because I could not hear them very well. As I began to drift away, I was expanding. I was feeling the ground underneath me, the car, the trees and the mountains in the distance. I had the strangest feeling like my head was blooming or exploding in directions I cannot communicate.

“But one of the most interesting sensations was of being in my friends minds. Not that I could read their thoughts or anything, but I felt as I was swimming around in their heads. It was very peaceful. I felt in communion.”


How do magic mushrooms work?


Psilocybin acts like serotonin, activating its receptors, specifically binding to 5-HT2A and 5-H2C receptors. However it doesn’t follow the usual serotonergic pathways of our brains. Instead, normal pathways are disrupted, and the psilocybin activates new 5-HT2A/C receptors, forging new pathways, new connections, strengthening synapses, and creating new thoughts. When the psilocybin finally leaves us, our brain remembers some of those new thoughts, which we may experience as profoudn insights.

Psilocybin’s serotonergic stimulation is also supposed to reducethe connectivity of the default mode network (DMN). The DMN is the part of our brain involved in self-referential thought, reflection but also rumination. It’s where we go when we’re thinking about ourselves, and deactivating these pathways when we’re depressed may be a key mechanism for psilocybin’s therapeutic effect.

Finally, when we’re under a lot of stress, depressed, or have PTSD, that stress response over time suppresses, atrophies, or even kills off a lot of our neurons.  Regions of our brain may even be seen begin to shrink as a result, especially the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus.

Serotonergic psychedelics such as psilocybin, LSD, and DMT have been found to directly reverse some of that atrophy by increasing the number of dendritic spines on neurons, and strengthening and creating new synapses. Psychedelics may or may not stimulate the creation of new neurons, but they at least help them grow, and these extra dendritic spines and synapses create more opportunities for diverse thoughts and new connections to be formed. This neural flourishing lasts well beyond the trip, which bodes well for future resilience, learning, decision-making, empathy, and creativity.

Scientists call the increased ability to form new connections “neuroplasticity”, and credit these structural brain changes with the revelations as well as long-lasting benefits that can come from psychedelic therapy. However our subjective, metaphysical experiences feel more than biological; there must be an element of magic. Huxley called it cleansing the doors of perception, while McKenna might say we are awakening to new realities and our own divinity.


Effects of magic mushrooms


“When we look within ourselves with psilocybin, we discover that we do not have to look outward toward the futile promise of life that circles distant stars in order to still our cosmic loneliness. We should look within; the paths of the heart lead to nearby universes full of life and affection for humanity.”

― Terence McKenna

During the trip itself, magic mushrooms can induce euphoria, divergent thought patterns, feelings of empathy, insights and realizations, and minor hallucinations in small to moderate doses. In larger doses they can induce spiritual experiences, ego dissolution and intense hallucinations.

In moderate and large doses there’s often an element of anxiety at some point in the trip as your mind is immersed in another world and may have doubts or irrational worries. This is normal, and one should just let it pass. However by preparing for the trip you can minimize the anxiety, as well as the possibility of it spiralling out of control and having a “bad trip”.

After the trip, people tend to feel happier, more empathetic, and more spiritual, with a greater sense of purpose and reduced anxiety.

The extent of the benefit will be dependent on the dose, as well as your state of mind and how much you’ve prepared, or what’s generally referred to as “set and setting”. Here, set refers to the individual person’s personality and mood, and setting is the environment. Are you well-slept? Is it outdoors or indoors?  Is it quiet or noisy? What kind of music is playing? Are the other people friendly?  All of these factors and more can play a role in how your mind responds to psilocybin, and the quality of your trip.



DIY psilocybin therapy


With more knowledge and mainstream acceptance of their impacts, but limited availability in a medical context, many are going the DIY route to get the therapeutic benefits of psilocybin. And now that they’ve been decriminalized in Oregon and DC, they’re becoming easier to get your hands on.

Shamans and the medical community alike warn that psilocybin is a medicine, and should be taken for spiritual or therapeutic, rather than recreational purposes. So keep this in mind if you’re intending to trip, and take a leaf from the therapist’s (or shaman’s) notebook by doing mental prep work beforehand. This could be journaling, meditation, getting out in nature, or talking to a good friend or therapist about any issues you want to resolve, as well as what you want to get out of the trip.

The environment in which you take magic mushrooms has a major effect on a trip, negative surroundings can lead to bad experiences, so it’s best to take them in a place and with people you’re comfortable with.

People who intend to use psychedelics therapeutically should be aware of the possibility of falling back into old habits and patterns, which are more easily surmountable in therapeutic contexts. The insights arrived at while tripping are easily forgotten over time. Without corresponding long-term changes in our habits, relationships, or environment, the benefits of magic mushrooms can fade.

This is why Huxley emphasized meditation. It can only help to begin a meditation or regular yoga practice. And to reiterate, if you’re DIY tripping for spiritual purposes or to heal yourself, it’s advisable to plan your trip in an intentional way. Discuss your intentions abd experiences with a therapist, a friend, or even with yourself by journaling. Remember that a light trip may be less transformative, but if you’ve never tripped before, it’s best to start small and work your way up to a larger dose as you feel more comfortable.


Can magic mushrooms be harmful?


A review of eight different studies involving psilocybin found no increased risk of adverse psychological effects such as drug abuse or psychosis at follow ups 8 to 16 months later. So basically, they’re not addictive, and even a very bad trip is unlikely to cause long-term harm.

However, they may adversely effect people with a history of psychosis, though there’s no good data on it, since they’re excluded from most studies. It also must be said that those who take large doses unprepared can experience adverse effects in the form of a bad trip. This is why I emphasize preparation, and that high doses are not for the novice.

Physically, magic mushrooms are well tolerated. However, psilocybin is metabolized by the liver, and probably shouldn’t be taken by people with serious liver problems such as cirrhosis. If you have serious health issues, check with a doctor first.

There was a sad case of a young man with bipolar disorder who had heard about magic mushrooms as a treatment for depression, and made a tea of them and injected them into his bloodstream. The mushroom spores grew there, and he almost died. Don’t do this, or anything like this! Magic mushrooms should be ingested orally; if you don’t like the taste, put them in a smoothie.

Another risk is in taking wild mushrooms. Don’t do this unless you’re a mycologist or with a skilled guide. A lot of mushrooms are poisonous, and a mistake could put you in the hospital or worse. And because of the use of pesticides, fertilizers, and hormones, they’re not as common in the American landscape.


An emerging magic mushroom market


Psychedelics have become a hot new bubble for venture capitalists, who are actively seeding the market. This, combined with amazingly positive outcomes in the research so far, means that many more studies are to come in the next years. Investor dollars, results, and a massive need are driving acceptance from the media and the government.

Historically, magic mushrooms were often consumed in the context of ceremonies and rituals. Today’s counterpart, albeit more individualistic, is therapy, and most psychedelics are being studied in the context of psychotherapy.

The benefits of magic mushrooms are likely strengthened in such a context. Having a skilled professional (or friend, if you’re going the DIY route) dedicated to exploring your experience and personal challenges before, during, and after the experience can only help realize and reinforce its potential benefits.

However what happens when a for profit company tries to administer and monopolize a sacred therapeutic experience?

In 2018, the FDA granted Breakthrough Therapy Designation to Compass Pathways to fast-track FDA approval for psilocbyin therapy with its own patented formulation, and to conduct its own clinical studies. The Usona Institute, a nonprofit, has also received Breakthrough Therapy Designation, and is conducting its own trials. Compass, however, has received a lot of criticism from the psychedelic research community. At first pretending to be a nonprofit, the for-profit company has now received $110 million from private investors including the likes of Peter Thiel, and is aggressively trying to dominate the market for psilocybin.

Magic mushrooms and psilocybin themselves can’t be patented. However Compass is trying to corner the market for psilocybin therapy by controlling the commercial production of psilocybin with its own formulation, COMP 360. In addition to patenting a method for synthesizing psilocybin, it has also submitted a patent application for using psilocybin in psychotherapy,  though this is unlikely to be approved. Compass is currently conducting phase 3 clinical trials, and recruiting and training therapists.

It’s not just Compass; hundreds of companies have been formed over the past few years to try and profit from the psychedelic renaissance. Many are doing research to find new drugs. I’m concerned that patenting psychedelics, variants, or the way that they’re used could lead to the development of a drug that more closely resembles soma than moksha.

Once approved by the FDA, psilocybin therapy could be costly – especially if it’s monopolized by Compass Pathways. As it stands, wealthier people can already access psychedelics in therapeutic contexts through expensive retreat programs in places like Amsterdam or Jamaica where psilocybin is legal.

Compass’s methods aren’t rocket science, however. The therapy consists of three sessions : a “getting to know you session”, a session in which you trip wearing an eye mask and listening to classical music and the therapist is there to reassure you, and a debriefing session where you discuss what you learned. Along with a mental health professional, you could easily replicate this or devise a better set, setting, or process.

There’s something very disconcerting about corporate therapy and tripping, like mixing the profane and the sacred. How strange that where capitalism is our religion, we go to the pharmaceutical companies or corporate clinics for healing, worship, and redemption.

While psychedelics can make the mundane appear sacred, can they transform the profane?



“Our normal word-conditioned consciousness creates a universe of sharp distinctions, black and white, this and that, me and you and it. In the mystical consciousness of being at one with infinite Oneness, there is a reconciliation of opposites… there is an immediate experience of our solidarity with all being and a kind of organic conviction that in spite of the inscrutabilities of fate, in spite of our own dark stupidities and deliberate malevolence, yes, in spite of all that is so manifestly wrong with the world, it is yet, in some profound, paradoxical and entirely inexpressible way. All Right. For normal waking consciousness, the phrase, ‘God is Love,’ is no more than a piece of wishful positive thinking. For the mystical consciousness, it is a self-evident truth.”

– Aldous Huxley








“The artist’s task is to save the soul of mankind; and anything less is a dithering while Rome burns. Because of the artists, who are self-selected, for being able to journey into the Other, if the artists cannot find the way, then the way cannot be found.”

― Terence McKenna
























Our culture, self-toxified by the poisonous by-products of technology and egocentric ideology, is the unhappy inheritor of the dominator attitude that alteration of consciousness by the use of plants or substances is somehow wrong, onanistic, and perversely antisocial. I will argue that suppression of shamanic gnosis, with its reliance and insistence on ecstatic dissolution of the ego, has robbed us of life’s meaning and made us enemies of the planet, of ourselves, and our grandchildren. We are killing the planet in order to keep intact the wrongheaded assumptions of the ego-dominator cultural style.”

― Terence McKenna


Silence in the deserts of the heart


Spectres of post-colonial Algeria

Hauntology & silence in the deserts of the heart

By McBond


« Il fallait quelqu’un pour exprimer ce silence, lui faire rendre tout ce qu’elle contenait de tristesse, pour ainsi dire la faire chanter. »

“Someone had to express this silence, make it give back everything it contained in sadness, so to speak and make it sing.”

– Marguerite Yourcenar, Alexis, ou le Vain Combat.


Three squirrels skipped across a sodden lawn bilious-green under a grey Saturday sky in Lanarkshire. The house of the Society of Missionaries of the Venerable Geronimo seemed hunched down on top of a hill beneath the Cathkin Braes.

Twenty-six years earlier Bartholomew McCorquodale had been ordained in a nearby Catholic parish, in July 1993.

The bishop was lucid for the occasion, and theres a picture of McCorquodale in the habit of the Society of Missionaries of the Venerable Geronimo going into St Finbarr’s church hall. Boxy 1990s cars in the background. He was trussed up like aspahi in a borrowed burnous.

The cardinal who founded the Society in 1868 must have seen the locally recruited spahis of the French colonial army in Algeria: did this inspire his choice for the habit of the Missionaries of St Geronimo? McCorquodale’s own military experience was limited to the Glasgow University Officers’ Training Corps — mornings on drizzly ranges firing off a few desultory rounds from the Sterling submachine gun and the Belgian-designed SLR — but he would later encounter clerics who had served in the French army, and who had retained something of a martial snap.

McCorquodale had recently heard of a now-deceased French priest who returned to Algeria after independence in 1962 to atone for his misdeeds as a French paratrooper during the Algerian independence struggle of the 1950s.

A few weeks prior to his ordination he had some cards printed in Toulouse — where he had completed his seminary studies — with a reproduction of a fourth-century Ravenna mosaic of the prophet Jonah being vomited out of the whale. The card was presently in one of his notebooks at an art gallery in Carthage, so he was recalling its details from memory.


Algiers, still a site of war


Just over two months later — September 1993 — he arrived in Algiers via Toulouse with little idea of the gravity of the situation. The conflict between the Algerian state and Islamist extremists had been background noise in the French media since early 1992. Two French surveyors had been assassinated in September 1993. He did not recall receiving any particular words of caution or guidance from the Missionaries of the Venerable Geronimo about the situation in Algeria.

In his Journal d’Algérie (2003) the photographer Michael von Graffenried mentions a figure of 700 Islamists killed between summer 1992 and October 1993, 400 members of the security forces, while 10,000 political activists were held in detention camps. Graffenried gives a figure of 140 “random” murders over the same period.

A Swiss confrère had attended McCorquodale’s ordination in July, and seemed more concerned about the need for lines of demarcation between his future activities and those of a pugnacious French member — let’s call him “the Duke’’– of the Saharan community for which he was destined. The Algerian embassy in London dealt with McCorquodale’s tourist visa application by post, no questions asked.

In his Journal d’Algérie (2003) the photographer Michael von Graffenried mentions a figure of 700 Islamists killed between summer 1992 and October 1993, as well as 400 members of the security forces, while 10,000 political activists were held in detention camps. Graffenried gives a figure of 140 “random” murders over the same period.

The Society’s regional house in Algiers was in the Rue des Fusillés in the Belcourt area of Algiers, not far from Albert Camus’s birthplace. A large colonial-era street map of Algiers hung on the wall near the refectory, its wooden frame seeking to corral an unruly reality.

The same map, printed in the 1950s, appears from time to time in Gillo Pontecorvo’s 1965 film The Battle of Algiers. French military officers in the film use the map to plan their campaign against the FLN in 1957. There’s a similar map in Julien Duvivier’s 1937 film Pépé le Moko. The street names on these kinds of maps included those of French military mass murderers of the 1840s and 1850s: Cavaignac, Pelissier, Bugeaud — specialists in organized pillage and asphyxiation (by smoke) of hundreds of indigenous fugitives in the grotto of Kabylia. A haunted haunting map.

The atmosphere in Rue des Fusilles was, however, cordial.

Image for post


After some jovial remarks, the then-Regional Miguel Larburu asked if he had drafted his last Will and Testament. Friar Georges Bergantz had the courtly manners of a fencing-master, while the taciturn Friar Saffroy had, McCorquodale would later learn, compiled a chronology of the Touat region of southwest Algeria.

This initial stay in Algiers lasted but a few days and was marked only by a somewhat comical incident in which McCorquodale and his Swiss colleague accidentally drove onto the runway at Algiers airport, passing within 100 metres of a stationary Boeing while retrieving from Air Freight a green tin trunk — similar to those in photographs of missionary “caravans” circa 1890 — containing his baggage sent from Toulouse.


Atlantis and the Sahara


The term “the South” had a special aura among the Missionaries of the Venerable Geronimo at that time, summoning up images of Saharan sand dunes, camel caravans shimmering in a heat haze, while Charles de Foucauld — soldier turned desert contemplative — meditated in his Tamanrasset fastness. The South was seen as removed from the tensions of northern Algeria, both in the pre-1962 period of French occupation and in the decades thereafter until the 1990s.


Desert nights by bisbiswas


A few days later they set out in a white Renault 4 for Ghardaïa, 600 kilometres away, heading southwards.

Until the 1960s the Sahara had been a separate territory for the Missionaries of the Venerable Geronimo, with around 50 priests and brothers involved in education and professional training as well as pastoral activities among the French civilian and military population of the Sahara.

The vision of an idealized Saharan landscape had been crafted over a lengthy period. In the late nineteenth century the Touareg nomads were reinvented by French scribes as noble lords of the desert with hazy links to Christianity and northern races.

The lost city of Atlantis was reputedly located in the far Sahara, and gave its name to the main hotel in Gao in northern Mali where McCorquodale had sojourned from 1988-1990. He thought of Atlantis and the eponymous 1919 novel L’Atlantide with its mysterious desert queen Antinea loosely modelled on a fourth century figure of Touareg folklore. While in Namur a few weeks before, he had seen that Antinea was the brand name for a range of lingerie.


A landscape of ghosts and silence


Moving south towards Ghardaïa there were however traces of a darker past: old French watchtowers from the 1950s in the mountains pressed back into service by the Algerian army, and earlier constructions used as observation or heliographic posts as the French pushed southwards into the Sahara in the mid-nineteenth century. They passed through Laghouat en route to Ghardaïa. Laghouat was the oasis city where the Catholic bishop of the Sahara resided— a restless, rangy Canadian named Michel Gagnon, who had arrived in Algeria in 1958.

McCorquodale and his fellow-missionary were following the route taken by French forces moving southwards from the coastal territories occupied by France in 1830. French forces occupied Laghouat in a particularly violent assault in November 1852. 2,500 people were killed and the year is still remembered as “sanat- al-khlā’”or the “year of desolation”. French military eyewitnesses describe crazed soldiers bayoneting civilians indiscriminately.

The artist Eugène Fromentin travelled through Laghouat in 1853 and hisUn été dans le Sahara (A Summer in the Sahara, 1858) is haunted during its Laghouat passages by phantasms of the slaughter of the previous year.

Bullet-riddled doors, crowds of beggars, and half-buried corpses were tangible traces of carnage by which Fromentin seems psychologically scarred.

At the time, McCorquodale had little awareness of Laghouat’s violent past as an “assassinated city” (to use Fromentin’s expression), and his Swiss colleague preferred to “live in the present”. Other clerics would recount how they had singlehandedly won the battle of Monte Cassino in 1944. Radio silence generally prevailed on matters surrounding colonial Algeria.

While silence had often been characteristic of clerical life in McCorquodale’s experience, there were, he thought, particular reasons for postcolonial opacity among the mainly French clerics in 1990s Algeria.

A small number may have been unable to “process” episodes from the Algerian War (1954–1962). Were individual missionaries as enthusiastic for the Algerian national cause as later missionary historians would claim? How divided were communities over the course of events as Algeria moved to independence in 1962?

McCorquodale’s studies in Toulouse had alerted him to scholarly work on colonial history and memory by figures such as Benjamin Stora, although this was still in an incipient phase. He recalled films such as Indochine, where colonialism was seen through the lenses of romance and glamour.


Hauntology and the mysteries of Algiers


The Algerian-born philosopher Jacques Derrida (1930–2004) would introduce his concept in 1994 of hantologie, a “puncept” coined to make a play between things that can be said to exist and things that cannot, but nonetheless appear, haunting reminders of lingering trouble.

One can be haunted backwards by things that no longer exist but still have impact, the ghosts of history — the map in Rue des Fusillés, for example — as well as by ghosts of an unrealised future, such as a soon-to-be demolished Brutalist structure from the 1980s. Perhaps the missionaries McCorquodale encountered were themselves haunted by the cancelled future of the optimistic nation building of the 1960s and 1970s, with which they and the wider Catholic community had been in solidarity.

Journey through the Algerian desert

The tin-can Renault rattled southwards beneath blue skies and a rocky salmon-pink landscape. They could not have foreseen how events would spiral out of control in a landscape haunted by memories of past violence. McCorquodale recalled that he had with him a copy of Robert Irwin’s novel The Mysteries of Algiers.

The novel begins in the Sahara during the Algerian war of independence. Philippe Roussel, a French intelligence officer, veteran of Indochina and prisoner of the Vietminh, has transferred his loyalties to Communism and is working as an anti-French agent. Unmasked in the Saharan post of Fort Tiberias, Roussel takes flight, eliminating anyone who stands in his way, passing through Laghouat on his mayhem-strewn progress towards Algiers.

Robert Irwin is a specialist in the Arabian Nights, and The Mysteries of Algiers is peopled by deranged genies. McCorquodale recalled later meeting a Catholic monk in Algiers coincidentally called Philippe — an ex-officer in the French army who revealed that his father had fought on the Eastern Front in the Second World War in the Legion of anti-Bolshevik Volunteers alongside the Germans. Irwin’s novel describes with particular relish the “Children of Vercingetorix”, a right-wing activist group of murderous tendencies who invoke the “God of the Franks”.

The sounding of the gong for lunch interrupted McCorquodale’s reminiscences. The mist was lifting over the Cathkin Braes. The Mysteries of Algiers had taught McCorquodale that things are not always what they seem.

Not a bad way, he thought of engaging with the opacity and silence of what W.H. Auden calls the deserts of the heart.



With the farming of a verse
Make a vineyard of the curse,
Sing of human unsuccess
In a rapture of distress;

In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountain start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.

W.H. Auden



















“God is gathering us out of all regions till he can make resurrection of our own hearts from the very earth, and teach us that we are all of one substance, and members of one another. For the one who loves his neighbor loves God, and the one who loves God, loves his own soul.” 

– St. Anthony of the Desert
















“The person who abides in solitude and quiet is delivered from fighting three battles: hearing, speech, and sight. Then there remains one battle to fight-the battle of the heart.”


– St. Anthony of the Desert




















“Learn to love humility, for it will cover all your sins.  All sins are repulsive before God, but the most repulsive of all is pride of the heart.  Do not consider yourself learned and wise; otherwise, all your efforts will be destroyed, and your boat will reach the harbor empty.  If you have great authority, do not threaten anyone with death.  Know that, according to nature, you too are susceptible to death, and that every soul sheds its body as its final garment.

– St. Anthony of the Desert












A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him, saying, ‘You are mad; you are not like us.'”

– St. Anthony of the Desert





































“It is interesting too that, in all the religious traditions, deserts and places where there is a minimum of sensory stimulation have always been regarded in an ambivalent way, first of all as the places where God is nearest and secondly as the place where devils abound.”

– Aldous Huxley


Is society driving you mad? 


You’re in the right place!

Bankers, businesses, and politicians are finding ways to squeeze people economically at every turn, when there’s nothing left to squeeze. The loss of jobs and housing leads to hunger and homelessness.

Poverty and stress are breeding grounds for trauma, which many of us are burying with addictions.

Most of us not only have a precarious livelihood, but we’ve lost our communities. 

Technology is replacing human interaction, which is good for the tech billionaires, but means many of us no longer have friends.

Social support and interaction isn’t only a necessary buffer against stress, anxiety, and depression – it’s through others that we find relief from poverty, and with them that we change the world.

When capitalist society has everything to do with why we’re mentally unwell, why do we so seldom talk about mental health in this context?

The dominant mental health paradigm seldom addresses the role of trauma, institutional oppression, inequality, poverty, or the media in our wellbeing. It rather supports capitalism by dehumanizing the poor, individualizing social problems, and pathologizing difference. It encourages conformity to a society run by sociopaths, and weakens us by pathologizing social problems. There are those who would like to keep us depressed, anxious, and powerless. Disempowered people don’t form unions; they consume to numb their pain.

Psyke is a new collective and blog exploring mental health from alternative perspectives, and in the context of capitalism and culture. It’s a place where personal narrative meets psychology, science, culture psychoanalysis, philosophy, and economics.

Psyke in Greek means butterfly. We believe in individual and collective transformation. In the process of transforming the world, we are transformed. And by transforming ourselves, we transform the world we live in. We believe we can best do these things together.

Mental health is a social and community issue, as well as an economic and political one. We all have ideas and perspectives to share, and we can all help each other.

We want to create a place for you to write and share your story, and to connect and collaborate with others.

We’re exploring alternative treatments, doing research, and creating resources.

We invite you to join us. Write for us, share your narrative, and help us grow as we create new projects and resources.

Welcome to psyke!