Can Drugs Generate Mental Peace and Higher Consciousness?

Medication is not a simple, quick, and easy panacea.

Posted Oct 03, 2020

“Fantastic Fungi,” a recent documentary, has given a visually stunning portrayal of fungi’s role in helping maintain and restore the planet’s ecosystems, serving as a purifier of contaminated soils, enhancing general physical health, and revitalizing people’s symbiotic relationship with nature. Additionally, the second half of the film is devoted to depicting the main advantage of psilocybin—a psychedelic compound contained in mushrooms—as creating higher consciousness, manifested as a sense of interconnectedness and augmented mental peace. The film makes two explicit or implicit assumptions that are also shared by most assertions regarding psychotropic drugs:

  1. Psychotropic medicine can create mental peace and positive interactions with environments and other people (e.g., lower violence and interpersonal closeness).
  2. The drugs generate higher consciousness and positive experiences because the biochemical processes facilitate developing more complex neural networks in the brain.

These claims seem supported by some studies. For example, survey participants have reported psilocybin developed their experiences of "undifferentiated unity” and “ego dissolution” (see, Taves, 2020). However, their underlying assumptions about the medication’s benefits both lack supporting evidence and have overlooked how the mind interacts with reality to shape the inner and outer experiences.

To begin with, the drug-induced internal jubilation and the belief about interpersonal connection, though they may placate distress temporarily, are not indicative of lasting mental peace and adaptive interpersonal contacts. For example, research shows that an estimated 65 percent of the United States prison population has an active substance use disorder. Another 20 percent did not meet the official criteria but were under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of their crime (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2019). Most of the substances are psychotropic drugs consumed by the individuals with the intention to experience ecstasy or to reduce negative psychological symptoms, but the drugs fail to generate either mental tranquility or socially desirable actions for them.

In addition, although the drug-generated biochemical processes or activation of some brain regions may create more interconnected neurons—and thus form a more complexed neural network in the nervous system—the alternation in the system is unable to serve as the criteria for determining the accuracy of one’s cognition or understanding about the human reality (e.g., interpersonal experiences, mental activities of interacting persons, situations, time, space, opportunities).

For example, the majority of those who experience mental distresses such as depression and/or anxiety may also be suffering PTSD and experiencing guilt or self-blame derived from interpersonal abuse, violence, frustration, and rejection, as well as symptoms of unreasonable fear and profound distrust of others. A recent literature review by this author using the PsychInfo database has not found any research that shows medication helps any PTSD victims obtain new understanding, make sense of their interpersonal experiences, or answer the “why” question for their mental suffering or interpersonal traumas.

Psychotropic medication or alteration in the brain may engender unilateral personal experiences such as euphoria and feeling connected with the universe and others, but our mental activities are not confined to some subjective emotions. People need to understand how and why the mind miscomprehends the evolving reality, and the approach they use needs to help them to connect with resources to meet their needs for safety, physical, mental, social, interpersonal, and intellectual developments, as well as other domains (e.g., Sun, 2013, 2014). If the mind functions as a closed mental system without understanding the reality of interaction and developing accordingly, it will never be able to connect with auspicious opportunities and individuals or to evade or transform predicament or wrong persons.

In short, psychotropic medication, including magic mushrooms, is not a simple, quick, and easy panacea for mental health and interpersonal harmony.