Sam Harris: Can Psychedelics Help You Expand Your Mind?

, , 100 Comments


Well many people ask me about the virtues
of psychedelics because I’ve written about this on my blog and in my book Waking Up.
And they were at a point early in my inquiry they were indispensable and this is an experience
that’s shared by many Westerners. It’s hard to really recommend psychedelics without
serious caveats because some of them I think are probably neurotoxic. Some are really well
tolerated but still you can have very scary destabilizing experiences on them. So you
just can’t without a caveat recommend that people drop acid or take MDMA. So it’s – everything
I say on the subject should be understood in that context. But for some people taking
a drug is the only way they’re going to notice that it’s possible to have a very
different experience of the world. They’re sufficiently lumpen and uninquisitive about
the nature of their own minds that if you tell them to meditate, if you teach them mindfulness,
if you tell them how to follow their breath they will look inside for 30 seconds or 30
minutes and see nothing of interest and walk away feeling that there’s no there there.
Either it doesn’t work for them or that everyone else must be just faking it or there’s
– it requires a certain talent and a certain degree of luck, therefore, to have enough
concentration to connect with any “spiritual practice” the first time or even the tenth
time or even after a year of attempting it because it’s just – these practices are
difficult and the conditioning of our minds to just ceaselessly talk is deep. So, as Terence McKenna once said, “Psychedelics
are the only method that truly guarantee an effect.” And this effect can be, again,
very painful. You’re not necessarily going to have a good experience but there’s no
question that if someone gives you 100 micrograms of acid something is going to happen. Two
hours later the significance of your existence will have just been borne down on you like
an avalanche. And again this can be terrifying or it can be absolutely sublime depending
on various causes and conditions. But the one thing it cannot be is boring. And that
is you can’t say that about yoga or meditation or just going into solitude or anything else
that – any other, you know, non-pharmacological means of inquiry. So, where drugs have been
indispensable for many people is in advertising the possibility of a change in consciousness.
And so I don’t think they’re durable methods for people that – I don’t think you need
or should just keep taking drugs month after month, year after year, as a mode of spiritual
inquiry. But there’s certainly a period in many people’s lives at the beginning
where you wouldn’t even see a glimmer of reason to suspect that a radical change in
the nature of your experience would be possible. My first experience with psychedelics that
was important, that actually shifted my view of human possibility was with MDMA which I
took before it became a club drug. I think this was in 1987 I took it. And no one I knew,
no one of my generation had taken it. And although the drug obviously goes back many
decades before that. And it had not been adopted by popular culture as a party drug. So this
was coming pretty much coming out of the therapeutic community. People were doing in a closeted
way psychotherapy with it. And I took it as a means of discovering something about the
nature of my mind. It was not a social situation. I was just – a friend and I were alone and
we took it together and just had a conversation on this drug. And what was revelatory about
it was that it was an experience of absolute sobriety. It was not – there was no druggy
component to it. We just became clearer and clearer and clearer in our thinking and feeling.
And the crucial component of this was a loss of any feeling of self-concern. I was no longer looking at myself through
my friend’s eyes. I was no longer worried about what he was thinking about me. I was
no longer subtly correcting course based on changes I saw in how he was perceiving what
I was saying. It was a whole veneer of fear frankly that I didn’t know was there that
got stripped away. And there was just kind of naked awareness of the present moment and
what came into that void was a very clear understanding that I loved him, that I – here
I was, you know, 18 or 19 and I was not in the habit of, you know, thinking about how
much I loved the men in my life. And here’s one of my best friends and I just realized
with a, you know, it sounds absolutely pedestrian to say it but I realized that I wanted him
to be happy in a way that was just – it was like, you know, a lightning bolt. And
the – what was truly revolutionary about this insight was that the feeling that came
crashing down to that point was just, you know, boundless love for one of my best friends
and absolutely no egoic self-concern, no possibility for feeling envy, for feeling any kind of
petty emotion that separated myself from him. But then I realized in the next moment that
I would feel this way for anyone who walked through the door. There was nothing contingent on our relationship
about this feeling. It was not a – it was not justified by my friendship with him. This
was the way I felt for every other conscious being. So this is the way I would feel for
the postman if he walked through the door. And that suddenly opened my mind to the possibility
of being like Jesus, whoever he was, you know. That these icons of traditional religion were
not all epileptics and schizophrenics and frauds. These were people who – and again
we can be skeptical about any specific individual, you know, some of them could have been schizophrenic.
Some of them could have had temporal lobe epilepsy but some people historically – and
even in the present have borne witness to this experience where you can just quite literally
lose yourself concern in a way that makes you love people unconditionally. And so, you
know, that was the experience I had on MDMA. It, you know, frankly blew my mind and it
took me years for me to integrate this understanding of this possibility into my intellectual life.
And it prompted me to seek to have this experience in other ways, you know, for many, many years. I spent years studying meditation in various
contexts, mostly in India, Nepal. And, you know, I can say you can have this experience
without MDMA. It’s not, MDMA isn’t the only way to have it. And the truth is virtually
any experience you can have with psychedelics you can have without psychedelics because
all psychedelics do is modulate the existing neurochemistry of the brain. They’re not
doing something that the brain can’t do on its own. You’re just playing with neurotransmitters
or mimicking neurotransmitters. I have had the same experience to more or less a similar
degree just through meditation. But it’s clear to me that I would never have suspected
that such an experience was possible but for my experimenting with MDMA in the beginning.
So I have to just acknowledge that. Again, issuing the caveat that this drug could well
be bad for you. There’s some evidence of its neurotoxicity. And there’s also a lot
of evidence that that research has been heavily politicized so you have to be cautious on
both sides. But, I can’t advocate that we drop MDMA in the water supply and cure us
of our egocentricity. There’s reasons to be circumspect there.

 

100 Responses

  1. Crazy Flossin

    November 27, 2017 10:18 pm

    is MDMA and other psychedelic s legal in US? if not then how is he openly saying he did drugs. Would he be arrested or kept a watch on?

    Reply
  2. Simon Salamina

    December 22, 2017 7:15 am

    In the future, the war on drugs is over, one is able to ingest a pill with pure chemical components like THC and MDMA without any bad repercussion, and compare diferent states of mind. I've been there, just came a sec to get my lighter.

    Reply
  3. Lou Montana

    December 27, 2017 5:38 am

    Sam, I have a mild brain injury. It cycles me up and down, not in a depressive way but like a weight, I am dragging, My mind is fog with only moments of clarity, On upcycles, I reach out to be nearly in a normal state and down cycles, it is a minute by minute survival. I am trying to come to terms with my new mind and seek to succeed in this new life of mine.

    I spent 2 years arguing with a medical practitioner who insisted I had nothing wrong with my brain. No matter what I told her she would argue my problems were caused by something other than a head trauma. Ear ringing, headaches, vision problem, confusion, slurred speech, and balance issues, I have had it but emotional cycles.

    Finally, I broke free and found an eye doctor and a head trauma doctor who took five minutes to listen to me. I have been in rehab/therapy or treatment if you will for three months. My low cycles are not as low and my clarity is less often. I can hardly focus to write these simple words.

    Lately, emotions are coming into play. I still have the other issue but I see the emotion and feel deeper emotions. I almost cry watching a movie and get overly angry watching the news. I pick up a tool and I am projected to the time I was proficient at using this tool and my hands automatically move precisely. I walk my two dogs at the park and the three dimensions of the trees are amplified. I walk through Walmart and the lines explode from the floor and isles. If I dare go into crowds the emotions of people are amplified and I see their distress, boredom or anger. Had I not been a teenager in the 70's this stuff would scare the hell out of me.

    I am seeking a form of reasoning with my brain. Maybe or maybe not I could benefit from a form of chemical treatment. I am not at war with myself but fail to understand the hatefulness that sounds everyone. I don't understand humanity or the alignment of the stars. I am that dirt road nearing the crossroads. I glimpse the shadow of death in my peripheral vision from time to time. A great horned owl sits on the neighbor's rooftop from time to time and watches me. I am trying to get my look back (my game) and formulate a better man. Like a Frankenstein movie, I am trying to build a better specimen. I am partially disconnected and fail to make attractive conversation.

    Could you point me.

    Reply
  4. L7

    January 17, 2018 5:19 am

    Harris should give God a rest, and focus more on socio-political issues–the real world–that's where we most need his discerning insight, honesty, and eloquence…not lost in unwinable debates about myth and metaphysics.

    Reply
  5. Aiden Hall

    January 18, 2018 11:42 am

    It requires a certain seeking towards truth and open-mindedness to admit that you could be wrong about everything

    Reply
  6. Kanzu999

    February 25, 2018 9:11 pm

    Of course these drugs should be taken seriously, and you should be educated on them before you try them, but nothing good is coming out of this war on drugs. It should be stopped.

    Reply
  7. valar

    April 18, 2018 3:50 am

    "These practices are difficult." No shit. I often think that mediation was designed to be just about the worst method possible for quieting and opening your mind. It is ridiculously inefficient and comically unsuited for the 21st Century. We need new methods that were not developed before we had electricity or even the steam engine.

    Reply
  8. Jeff B

    May 14, 2018 12:40 pm

    I think certain drugs would be good to instill empathy. There's not much of that going around, these days.

    Reply
  9. James Newman

    June 8, 2018 7:41 pm

    My Jesus!!! Talk about cutting of precious comments. This is more like that billy Jean song with half of everything gone.

    Reply
  10. Rajat Roy

    July 5, 2018 6:43 am

    So what you are saying is we should just drop mdma in the water supply and cure the egocentricity? Reasonable.

    Reply
  11. * Juke Joint

    July 30, 2018 5:11 pm

    What happened to Sam the opposite can also happen also. You can become paranoid not trusting anyone.

    Reply
  12. Bradatimrkonja

    August 29, 2018 10:20 am

    I cast off all my envy and felt this kind of love the moment I abandoned communism, so it sounds like I don't need MDMA anymore 🙂

    Reply
  13. Franny Dimitri

    August 29, 2018 5:29 pm

    1987 is waaaay into popular MDMA use in USA
    QUOTE
    At the time of the 1985 report it was estimated that a million doses of Ecstasy had been used, with the number expected to grow as it spread to the streets and campuses.
    UNQUOTE

    Reply
  14. sa3 32

    August 30, 2018 4:42 am

    Holy, this guy can't even speak straight, stuttering all the time. What to expect from someone defending drugs, though? Guess they already got to him.

    Reply
  15. Nilly Sigger

    August 30, 2018 12:56 pm

    "My first experience with a psychedelic was mdma" well thats where you are wrong kiddo lol, I dont think mdma is a real psych

    Reply
  16. Ryan Barnhart

    August 30, 2018 2:06 pm

    This is the guy that certain people have labeled as a racist, hateful, right-wing… When you finally hear him speak you realize that there are a lot of dishonest people out there.

    Reply
  17. Beautiful

    August 31, 2018 9:43 am

    Psychedelics give you the power to look at your thoughts and beliefs in another belief and see if they are relevant to your current life, or if they’re holding you back. Even the beliefs you have since you were a child, and the ones given to you by your parents or environment. That’s why it’s been so effective in treating mental illnesses such as depression or PTSD.

    Reply
  18. Garrett Benton

    August 31, 2018 4:14 pm

    "The significance of your existence will have just been born down on you like an avalanche" – such a great way of describing the effects of a psychedelic.

    Reply
  19. Raj Singh

    September 1, 2018 7:43 pm

    Everyone has their own picture of the truth, their own bigger picture. But in truth each picture is only a piece of the puzzle. To see the tapestry in its entirety is something very few individuals ever come to know, and having realized that many attempt to lay down a path to follow for others to see. Hard to build a road when you only have a vague idea of where your destination is though, as glimpses are most these enlightened few get. Only those at the pinnacle, devoting their lives to understanding, ever catch more than glimpses… and having devoted their lives to understand themselves they often can't communicate the knowledge effectively to others wandering in the confusion.

    It's like an engineer without science or math to help frame his understanding and communicate it to others. When you lack the precise words and established methods of thought, let alone the language, to communicate the idea it's like explaining the procession of the Earth around the Sun to people in the middle ages who lack any understanding of the science required to truly picture and understand it in your head.

    Reply
  20. ryan alving

    September 1, 2018 10:01 pm

    I don't think Sam Harris would like the fact that I became Christian after exploring altered states of consciousness and reading the bible.

    Reply
  21. Andréa S.

    September 1, 2018 11:01 pm

    If you need psychedelics to expand your mind, then you're not very opened minded.

    The problem with taking them is that if you harm your brain, you don't even realize it. You can end up just taking them again and again no longer knowing the continued risk.

    I know a girl who has taken psychedelics and wants to take more to "expand" her mind. She seems mentally impaired and doesn't even know it. I don't know if she was that way before the drugs or if the drugs caused it, but more can't be good for her brain.

    Reply
  22. Will Dominguez

    September 4, 2018 2:23 am

    MDMA is an AMAZING molecule. Psychotherapy would be much more effective if patients could take it while talking about their life and their thoughts and experiences. Only those who have tried it can understand why this would be the case.

    Reply
  23. Disco John

    September 5, 2018 12:52 pm

    I love what this guy is aiming at, but its like this guy gets hard every time he shuts down a Christian, and i think there are giant holes in his philosophy caused by prejudice.

    Reply
  24. Jake Petree

    September 6, 2018 5:24 pm

    I agree with Mr. Harris in many ways. Although, I do think that he needs to add a strong caution that psychedelics can cause much worse than "bad trips". Every one has heard the ridiculous stories about people taking LSD and forever believing afterwards they are a glass of orange juice. These stories muddy the waters because there IS absolutely a very real danger of triggering schizophrenia or other mental illnesses. I bore witness first-hand that a single trip can trigger schizophrenia, the close friend that this happened to killed himself years later because of this. The rest of us came down but he never did.

    Reply
  25. TheGreatslyfer

    September 6, 2018 11:49 pm

    Funny since Peterson, whom he debated a few years after this vid, used the studies of the effects of psychedelics in order to bring forth an argument that would strengthen the idea of a supernatural/non physical world which is the environment where religion has reign over, which is an overall stance that Sam disagrees with heavily.

    Reply
  26. Kalla H

    September 19, 2018 7:12 pm

    Me on 5 tabs at a rave party in the 90`s as a little brat walking over to the biggest guy among thousands and without knowing him at all just giving him a big hug, smiling from eye to eye and saying "I love you man!". I was like 12 years old and I`m not attracted to guys. LOL!

    Reply
  27. Malcolm X

    September 20, 2018 8:01 pm

    I basically agree with most of what’s he saying, but I’m unsure about the part that the brain can achieve it without the substance, contrary to other substance. Hearing produces dopamine which the brain already had in lower doses. Every state the mind Achieve insobriety is on a different level but the brain can basically achieve this states in a natural way with dosage Of the neurotransmitters

    Reply
  28. Admir Gušić

    October 6, 2018 1:57 am

    “I can’t advocate we drop MDMA in water supply and cure us from our egocentricities” 😂 Nice sense of humor!

    Reply
  29. Zachary Wagner

    October 16, 2018 5:57 am

    I get this guy’s insanely smart and all, but does the way he talks just annoy the heck out of you?

    Reply
  30. Not The Droid You're Looking For

    October 19, 2018 3:07 am

    I dont understand all the hype surrounding Sam Harris.
    IMO he's one of the most underwhelming thinkers I've ever listened to…

    Reply
  31. Nick Lorentzen

    October 20, 2018 10:14 pm

    What an awesome take on this topic. I do not agree with everything Sam Harris has to say, but here he is spot on in my opinion. He is definitely a smart individual.

    Reply
  32. Inner Vigilance

    October 22, 2018 9:25 am

    The difference here is the ability to self-reflect. Most young people who take MDMA just think they're having a great time and it doesn't go any deeper than that. For my 17 year old self it was simply a form of escape from the reality I was in at the time.

    Reply
  33. Interbeing Art

    October 24, 2018 12:36 pm

    I agree with most of what he says except "virtually any psychedelic experience you can have without psychedelics". I think what he meant to say was any psychedelic revelation/realization can be had without the substance. There is no other experience that can come close to the breakthrough psychedelic experience like DMT or Salvia.

    Reply
  34. victor martins

    November 14, 2018 12:07 pm

    I took mdma and lsd and tried to kill 4 metropolitan pigs ,great way to feel hatred for authorities ,I only take lsd now no come down.

    Reply
  35. Jacob L

    November 15, 2018 5:41 pm

    As someone who has taken MDMA I find this video a little negative because firstly I can't enjoy MDMA anymore because it never works anymore… also it's kinda suggesting you can't learn these things without taking MDMA. All MDMA does it mimic the effect of feeling socially accepted and expressing yourself.

    You don't necessarily need to take drugs to understand these things. When people talk about how acid opens their mind and the vague idea that we harm ourselves through our own fear, I already understand that without ever having taking acid… it's just on LSD it's much more intense and emotional realisation.

    Reply
  36. Brad

    January 2, 2019 8:33 pm

    I wish my temporal lobe epilepsy had those affects. I haven't had a seizure for 10 years, but the most it did was give me Déjà vu in the moment.

    Reply
  37. Adam

    February 10, 2019 8:42 pm

    Well said. I have been obsessed with idea that the only cure for my depression is by dropping DMT. Although I've had eye-opening experience I can't stress enough how terrifying and alien grounds human mind can venture to.
    That said, I don't think this is something we should all do. I am just starting to realize that the work has to be done by yourself using other means and bettering your life. As Sam said though, for some people this might the the only way of realizing that they are not their thoughts and that nature of reality is completely different but any experiments with drugs should be done carefully and with caution thus ideally if they were used by therapists and not sold by drug dealers.
    I am beginning to like Sam Harris more and more, I just thought of him as this hyper-intellectual individual and wasn't aware of his ideas on meditation and spirituality without religion.

    Reply
  38. telebob

    April 7, 2019 7:55 pm

    So many drugs, so many contexts. What if the entire mideast were dosed with about 300 mikes of very pure LSD? What would be the result? Jews, Muslims, atheists, primitives sophisticates…. what would the civilization look like three days after the 'drug a lypse'? One of the definitions of a 'good drug' is one that leaves you with new knowledge after the drug has worn off. Perhaps a new way of looking at the world? Just asking.

    Reply
  39. Joseph Villarreal

    April 21, 2019 11:47 am

    Its pain not to love unconditionally. Your third eye opens up when you eat mushrooms. We are all one being with individual agency to learn love.

    Reply
  40. Al Haymon

    June 9, 2019 12:34 am

    Cocaine is like drinking a strong coffee, MDMA is ok.. LSD Is where it’s at!! You want an experience, take LSD

    Reply
  41. MaskedMarvyl

    June 13, 2019 8:37 am

    Psychedelic drugs destroyed three of my friends lives; and they didn't even take them that many times. Playing Russian roulette with your brain is great…if you win. You get to brag about it.
    If you lose, no-one knows about it or hears about it.
    There are better ways of expanding your mind…

    Reply
  42. Simon Sozzi

    June 18, 2019 1:05 am

    Well somehow meditation and psychedelics didn't stop him from becoming (or remaining?)an Islamaphobe and an Race IQ science proponent… so it's definitely not a cure for bigotry. Love the shrooms…but not this playa'!

    Reply
  43. Eliu Duarte

    July 13, 2019 2:48 am

    People are religious because they have different cultures they experience and perceive reality in a different way.

    Reply
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    Reply
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    October 3, 2019 9:37 pm

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    Reply

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