I grew up pretty straight-laced. The idea of taking illegal or dangerous drugs never appealed to me. I was disgusted by even the idea of it. I had been convinced that only a low-life with no future worth living would use “drugs”.
Of course, I still drank alcohol. It was socially acceptable! I never thought twice about it, though now I know alcohol may be the most harmful drug of all.
I had never seriously considered trying MDMA (3,4-Methylenedioxy-methamphetamine) until one of my friends asked me to join her in her first experience with the drug. She told me she had a friend who took MDMA a couple times a year and who knew how to do it “safely”.
I was skeptical. The idea of taking MDMA safely seemed like an oxymoron.
However, when she summarized his technique to me, it sounded like this guy had the process down to a science. This comforted me, especially my concern about things going dangerously sideways.
So, I said “yes”. I was nervous, but because we were doing it in a familiar house with someone who understood the ins and outs of the drug — a shaman of sorts — the risk seemed acceptable. It felt more like an experiment than anything else.
Thankfully, it was a positive experience, and one that would change my life forever.
Meeting our Shaman
Before the big day, I met my friend’s friend — let’s call him our Shaman. He was a man in his late-twenties and a highly successful professional. Perhaps not the kind of person you would suspect takes MDMA four times a year (he explained there is evidence to suggest more frequent use is dangerous).
Anyway, our Shaman suggested we have drinks together. Looking back, I realize that he was setting us up for a good experience. This was an opportunity for him to become familiar with me and I with him. He also took the time to describe his experiences with the drug, as well as what to expect while under its influence. Then, he patiently answered our laundry list of questions.
Having this talk with our Shaman helped to put our minds at ease. This is one of two important elements that have been recognized scientifically to help people to have positive experiences with drugs like MDMA. This is referred to as “set”, as in mindset. The other element is referred to as “setting”, as in the environment in which the drug is taken.
I have included a brief description of the concept of “set and setting” as well as why people would be interested in studying drugs like MDMA at the end of this article.
When I arrived at the house where this was going down, I could tell my friend was nervous. So was I. You know how you get uncontrollably shaky when something scary is about to happen? That was both of us — shivering like we were outside in the middle of winter with no jackets.
When our Shaman arrived, we chatted a bit before he dove into explaining the process once again. He had brought three ziplock bags full of vitamins, one for each of us. These were supposed to quell the MDMA “hangover”, which, we learned, could be quite unpleasant.
When he was done with the explanation, he took out three little pills and handed them out. My friend and I looked at each other and shrugged, wordlessly communicating our acceptance of what was to come.
We cheered, threw the pills in our mouths, and swallowed.
Our Shaman led us into the living room where he suggested we get blankets because we were going to start feeling chilly. We each cuddled up in our own blanket and took a seat on different pieces of furniture. It would be about 45 minutes before anything happened.
My friend started to feel the effects first. She was by far the smallest of the three of us, so perhaps that’s the cause. In any case, she started panicking as the effects of the drug began to manifest themselves in her body and mind.
If you’ve ever taken a powerful drug before, you’ll know that it can be uncomfortable and disorienting. You might feel nauseous or a tightness in your chest, and this can lead to feelings of helplessness and, ultimately, fear or terror.
Our Shaman asked her what was going on in her mind and body. She tried to explain, but her emotions were getting the better of her. He kept insisting that it would pass and reassured her that she would be fine.
Thankfully, he was right, and her anxiety eventually dissipated.
It was a rough start for my friend. She ended up having a very different experience from me, although not in a bad way, as she later explained to me.
By this time, I was starting to feel a warmth spreading all over my body. It felt a little bit like I had a fever, except that I wasn’t sweating or uncomfortable. It felt really good to be wrapped in the blanket. Like it was a bitterly cold winter day and that blanket was my protection against the elements.
It was then that my friend grew quiet, absorbed by her experience. So, the Shaman and I began having more of a one-on-one conversation.
Something that you need to know about me is that I’ve always been a shy and self-conscious person. I’ve spent a lifetime second-guessing everything that came out of my mouth, if it came out at all. When I was around unfamiliar people it was very difficult for me to be myself.
But, with this newfound feeling of warmth flowing through me, I felt comfortable, at ease, at peace. Watching our Shaman speak, he seemed less and less foreign to me and more and more familiar.
Our conversation started to become deep and philosophical. And, then, an odd thing started happening to me. Something that I had never experienced before.
Suddenly, I lost all anticipation of it being my turn to speak. I just listened to him while he spoke and when it was my turn to speak, there was no fear of not finding the right words. There was no anxiety about adding value to the conversation. There was just my expression of my thoughts and my comprehension of his.
It was a little bit like “I”, or at least what I typically thought of as “I” — the background chatter — was gone. My mind felt quiet and open — it was satisfied being here, now. It didn’t need the world to be any different than it was at that very moment.
I was undistracted by thoughts or emotions. I felt like I couldn’t have felt a negative emotion even if I wanted to. There was nothing to fear. There was nothing to be anxious about.
For the first time in my life, words flowed out of my mouth with ease, without any messy self-doubt attached. I spoke my mind more fluently and effortlessly than I had ever done, even with my closest friends.
I realize now that I was happily and joyfully enjoying every moment. It was like the past and future had faded into the background, leaving only the present. Things were just happening and I was just responding to them happening, naturally. This went on for hours.
Looking back on the experience, there is only one way that I can describe it — it was like “I” had disappeared and had “become” the conversation. There was no “him” and “me”, there were just ideas, questions, and exclamations mixing without hurtle or hindrance. There was just a conversation, and that conversation had effortless access to my mind, my thoughts, and my beliefs.
My friend and I returned to a more “normal” state around the same time. The experience had lasted about four hours, but neither of us were tired. We felt happy and excited, but something about the world definitely felt different.
Shortly after, we said our thanks and good-byes to our Shaman.
My friend and I chatted until light began streaming over the horizon, energy still coursing through our bodies.
It was an incredible experience that had a transformational impact on me.
No going back
What this experience taught me is that there are different, and sometimes better, ways to experience reality than what I know or understand.
Because of this, I couldn’t help but wonder, why can’t all of my conversations with people be more like the one I had with our Shaman?
The impulsive part of me replied, because you’re not always high, you idiot!
But, a more thoughtful part of me said, maybe your conversations can’t all be like that. Maybe the effects the drug had on your brain are irreproducible naturally. But, maybe, now that you know how amazing a conversation can be, you can move your future experiences in that direction.
Time has proven the more thoughtful part of me correct.
Since that experience, I’ve been able to lose myself in conversations with people — even people unfamiliar to me — and connect with them on a level I never could before.
Having this experience showed me that it’s possible to allow my authentic self to effortlessly flow out of me. And once I knew this was possible, it gave me something to strive toward.
It’s changed my life. And there’s no going back.
If you’re curious to learn more about the potential applications of drugs like MDMA, I would suggest Michael Pollan’s book, How to Change Your Mind. It’s a wonderful, thoroughly researched read.
Please note, if you’re considering trying a drug like MDMA for the first time, it’s worth knowing that it’s possible to have both extremely positive and extremely negative experiences. I’d also suggest taking the time to understand the concept of “set and setting” (see here and here).
Thanks for reading!