Of the more than 32 million people who have used psychedelics in their lifetime, the reasons for doing so vary quite greatly. For some people, it’s a spontaneous decision for the purposes of recreation or entertainment. For others, it’s based on peer-pressure and under a social context.
Yet for a growing segment of the population, the decision to consume psychedelics is one that is made weeks, months, or even years before the experience itself. It requires thorough consideration and preparation and is driven by a specific goal or outcome.
The latter group of psychedelic users could be considered those who are using intention to drive their decision to consume psychedelics, as well as the subsequent process that follows. So, what exactly is an intentional psychedelic experience—and how can one have and prepare for one?
So, You’re Interested in Intentional Work with Psychedelics?
Before we apply the concept to psychedelics, it may be helpful to understand first exactly what intention is. According to Merriam-Webster, we can understand intention to mean:
what one intends to or bring about; a determination to act in a certain way.
When it comes to psychedelics, we can apply this definition to understand that the intentional psychedelic experience is driven by a certain outcome or an idea about what can be gained. In many cases, this goes beyond the notion that psychedelics will allow someone to simply ‘have fun’ or ‘feel something.’
Intentional psychedelic use generally means that the experiences are motivated by a desire for healing or growth. In this case, the user is typically seeking to learn more about themselves or experience a transformation of some kind, or both. When psychedelics are done in this manner, with purpose, the entire process—from preparation, to facilitation, to integration—is thoughtfully approached.
There are three primary ways to have an intentional psychedelic experience—and each one has unique benefits and considerations. Using psychedelics intentionally can be done as a part of psychedelic assisted therapy, in a plant medicine ceremony, or in a solo intentional psychedelic trip. This guide will explore how to prepare for these experiences, how to integrate them, and what to expect.
Differentiating Between the Types of Intentional Psychedelic Use
Illicit drug use, including that of psychedelics, is generally driven by four motivations. These include sentience, therapeutic needs, insight-seeking, and pleasure-seeking.
While experiencing pleasure is likely a driver for many who choose to use psychedelics recreationally, gaining insight, elevating consciousness, and fulfilling a therapeutic need are generally associated with psychedelic use that is more intentional.
There is certainly some overlap between psychedelic therapy, plant medicine ceremonies, and solo intentional psychedelic trips. However, your individual goal or desired outcome will affect which route of administration is best for you as well as how the experience plays out.
The intention, whether it’s to achieve a state of sentience or address a specific therapeutic need, will play a role in the entire process—from the first step of preparation to the integration that follows the experience.
Psychedelic Therapy (Either Legal or Underground)
Psychedelic therapy has recently exploded in the United States and around the globe. Researchers are increasingly becoming aware of the positive role psychedelics can play in improving the lives of millions suffering from mental illness.
From ketamine-assisted therapy and psilocybin-assisted therapy to treat depression, to MDMA-assisted therapy as a promising PTSD treatment, we’ve come a long way in destigmatizing psychedelics and recognizing their potential for medical use. For this reason, more and more people are seeking psychedelic therapy.
While the US has experienced an uptick in research of the benefits of psychedelic therapy, access to these treatments is still lagging. Many Americans who want to benefit from working therapeutically with psychedelics are limited to participating in a clinical study or to legal substances like ketamine and cannabis. Beyond that, however, many people turn to underground therapists.
Generally speaking, the process between legal and underground practitioners varies. Therapists and researchers will typically make use of protocol-based processes and traditional therapeutic models for the preparation, facilitation, and integration stages. Of course, there will be some differences based on the specific diagnoses and intended outcomes desired by the patient.
On the other hand, underground therapists working outside of the conventional healthcare model may incorporate different holistic modalities. They may also have different and unique backgrounds that influence how they facilitate the experience, as well as what comes before and afterwards.
Within the conventional healthcare system (i.e. legal psychedelic therapy or participation in a clinical trial), the preparation stage will likely begin with an initial consultation with a therapist. While this could also be the case for underground psychedelic therapy, legal therapy might include additional components like a discussion of previously used treatments and medicine, as well as confirmation that these haven’t worked.
This forms the basis of the screening process, which may also include a health physical or biometric test. The intention (i.e. the perceived therapeutic impact or desired health outcome) will be discussed with the therapist, as well as what to expect during the experience itself and details regarding safety precautions (dosage, set, setting).
Working with an underground therapist may involve some of those same aspects but is usually outside of a clinical setting and likely won’t include as many of the clinical/medical applications. Based on who the therapist or healer is, they may bring some of their own personal background and experience to the process.
In some cases, they won’t have an in-depth understanding of mental illness and may not be able to provide specific recommendations and support that one would receive with a trained psychotherapist/mental health worker. On the other hand, these alternative practitioners may have more first-hand experience with the particular psychedelic substance than licensed therapists and medical professionals.
They may also come with some unique insight into psychedelics or practice modalities used outside of the conventional health paradigm (i.e. meditation, holotropic breathwork, hakomi, etc.). These are the less traditional modalities that we use to help our clients heal here at Psychedelic Passage.
As such, intention, in the spiritual sense of the word, may be more of a focus and will encompass aspects of both therapeutic healing and personal/spiritual growth. For those of you interested in using psychedelics to heal outside of the conventional health paradigm, we suggest you schedule a free discovery call with one of our integration specialists today.
Within both types of psychedelic therapy, the facilitation of the psychedelics themselves will likely be relatively similar. The set and setting will likely play an important role in how the therapist designs the environment and provides support throughout the experience. The setting (the physical and social environment) will be peaceful and comfortable.
In the case of legal therapy, it will be in a clinic or hospital but will be decorated to not feel like it is. A comfortable bed or couch, comforting lighting, and even spiritual artifacts and artwork might be incorporated into the room. A male-female therapy team will be present at all times and in many cases, health professionals or a registered psychiatrist will be available should any adverse effects arise.
The support health staff won’t ask questions or engage the user in discussion, but will be there to provide medical oversight and ensure safety. In most cases, eyeshades and headphones will be worn and in some cases, health monitoring (i.e. heart rate, blood pressure, etc.) will also be done throughout the process.
In the case of underground therapy, the session can take place anywhere—be it in a living room, at your house, or outdoors. Conversations about intentions during the preparation stage might inform what is included in the facilitation stage, like specific types of music, items of spiritual significance, art materials, or a pen and paper.
Depending on the therapist and their background/experience, they may try to draw out information about what the user is experiencing and provide comforting insights or recommendations.
One or more facilitation sessions may be required based on the desired intention or outcome. Subsequent facilitation sessions are typically spaced about a month apart, with meetings with the therapist in between.
Integration is the process of unpacking and processing the psychedelic experience so that the downloads, insights, and realizations can be used in everyday life. In the integration sessions, the therapists will work with the user to interpret the thoughts and emotions that arose during the sessions, and the intention will likely be re-visited several times in the process.
Psychedelic integration is one of the main ways we work with clients here at Psychedelic Passage. For those of you interested in learning more about how we can help you heal through psychedelics, schedule a free discovery call with one of our integration specialists today.
Plant Medicine Ceremony
Specific psychedelics like ayahuasca, iboga, peyote, and psilocybin, often involve a plant medicine ceremony. There are different ceremonial styles, but many will incorporate a framework that highlights the sacred nature and legacy of the ceremony and gives respect to the spirits of the plant medicine.
These ceremonies typically occur in a group setting, where several participants consume the plant medicine in a shared space and at the same time. There may also be a shaman or leader with a support team who may also consume the plant medicine to maintain the frequency and protect the energy of the spiritual container as well as look after the participants. While everyone will bring their own personal backgrounds and intentions to the space, all of the individual experiences will affect those of the other participants.
In many cases, the group setting also facilitates a sense of camaraderie, an idea that “we’re all in this together.” Unlike, with a solo psychedelic trip or a psychedelic assisted therapy session, there is an added sense of community that can contribute to ongoing support and growth.
For most plant medicine ceremonies, there will be much less in terms of a formal preparation process. As they typically require travel, there’s much less opportunity for meeting with the shaman or facilitators before the ceremony. There may also be a diet to follow or an initial meeting/sharing circle with other participants, but these aren’t a common feature in all ceremonies.
Narrowing an intention is an absolutely crucial aspect of the plant medicine ceremony process, and is mostly done alone in the weeks or months prior to the experience. In fact, it will likely be included on the application form for the retreat or ceremony facility.
The healers may do one quick meeting in the days immediately prior to the ceremony to discuss the intentions of the experience, though, this isn’t always the case. It’s important to ensure that you feel adequately prepared for your plant medicine ceremony—and if you feel like you need support beyond what the retreat is providing you, please schedule a call with one of our psychedelic coaches today. Anything from talking through safety logistics to building your own personal framework to navigate any situation that arises during the excursion, we are here to help.
Just before the ceremony begins, the healers (shamans, facilitators, or curanderos) will prepare the space, sometimes with the help of the participants. The space may be cleansed with sage or palo santo and there may be sacraments or implements like sacred tobacco.
In some cases, there may be prayers or other blessings. Participants may be encouraged to repeat their intention prayer either silently or out loud.
If the intention hasn’t already been discussed prior to the experience itself, it will be discussed along with dosage recommendation once the participant takes the substance (this is especially the case with ayahuasca).
In the case of a plant medicine ceremony, spirituality plays a significant role in the facilitation of the experience. It may start out with an invocation of spiritual protections or the calling of spirits in the form of deities, ancestors, animals, or the spirits of the plant medicine itself.
Each individual will consume the medicine and in some cases, healing songs (icaros) will be sung by the curanderos. In some ceremonies, this will also take the form of individual healings for the participants, and specific icaros will be sung to individual participants for specific afflictions/intentions.
If the participant is experiencing discomfort or difficulty at any point, there will generally be a healer or helper who guides them to a separate area and helps them through the difficult process. For the most part, only the participant will guide their own journey but if it’s necessary, the shaman/healer might provide some or a suggestion. It’s rare that anyone is left alone at any point, and safety is always a priority.
In some cases, nausea, discomfort, and vomiting are common (particularly with ayahuasca). It’s thought that this is where the intention plays a role. The intention to, say, forgive a mother for pain that was inflicted in the past, may come with a release of negativity. That may present itself as purging, not just in a physical sense but in an emotional sense as well. Without a clear healing intention, this may simply be experienced as pain and discomfort, and may lead to difficulties in fully experiencing the medicine and gaining any long-term healing benefits.
Much like a lot of the preparation, the integration following the experience is crucial, but with plant medicine ceremonies, this responsibility falls on you. Unfortunately, this is where plant medicine retreats tend to fall short.
There will certainly be teachings and insights that arise as a result of the medicine, and the weeks following the process are an important time to incorporate these into daily life. They’ll likely be related to your intention and might involve things like changes to diet, sleep, substance consumption, and new practices like journaling or meditation.
These changes can make you feel like you’re going crazy if you don’t have the support you need. That’s why we absolutely recommend doing integration work with the help of a psychedelic integration specialist—it’s simply too difficult for most people to do on their own.
Schedule a free discovery call to learn more about how we can help you integrate your plant medicine experience to make lasting change in your life.
Solo Intentional Psychedelic Trip
So, you’ve decided to have a psychedelic experience to fulfill an intentional purpose, great! You’re well on your way. You likely have a challenge that you want to address, emotions that you want to work through, habits you want to break, or a level of consciousness or self-growth that you want to attain.
Or, you simply trust the psychedelic medicine to provide you with whatever you need (this can be an intention, too!). Unlike a recreational trip, an intentional one will incorporate both preparation and integration, and will not just be the experience itself.
Forming your intention will likely be the first step in your preparation process. Chances are, you’re already on a journey that’s incorporated intentional work in several facets of your life—career, relationships, etc. (but this isn’t always the case).
When incorporating psychedelics into an intentional journey, you’ll likely want to spend some time before the experience doing some inner work, like meditation or journaling. This internal exploration will help you organize your thoughts, emotions, and desires prior to taking the substance.
You’ll also want to ensure that you’ve got a setting that’s conducive to the type of intentional experience you seek. Where will you do it? Is it an environment free of interruptions? How will your safety be ensured? Who is a trusted friend or individual who can help you as a sitter? What music and items can you incorporate to facilitate the best experience?
In addition to preparing the setting, the set (short for mindset) will be just as important. Your mental state will influence your experience. Tough week at work? Maybe postpone your experience. Unsure about the dosage? Start small. Without an experienced healer or therapist, your safety and the “success” of your experience will be in your own hands.
Here are a few resources we recommend for your journey:
- Reading: The Psychedelic Experience: A manual based on the Tibetian Book of the Dead (audio version found here), Manual for Psychedelic Guides by Mark Haden
- Listening: Psychedelic Therapy Playlist 1 by Wavepaths (Spotify), Psychedelic Therapy Playlist 2 by Wavepaths (Spotify)
- Watching: Psychedelic Medicine? With Ros Watts, The Secret (Trailer)
After you’ve taken precautions to ensure your safety (having a sober sitter/friend available, not having access to car keys, finding an appropriate dose, etc.), it’s time to take the substance!
To make the experience truly intentional, it’s recommended take steps to facilitate as inward of a journey as possible. A good way to facilitate this is to reduce as much external stimuli as possible. This typically means using an eye mask and headphones. A journal may be helpful to record anything that comes up.
While you’ll likely have someone else present to ensure your safety, without a therapist or plant medicine healer, it’s likely that you won’t have anyone available to provide the support, guidance, and prompting that you would get with someone experienced in the health field and/or healing arts. However, if difficulties arise, just refocus on your intention and trust that you will safely navigate the process. We suggest you read our article that provides 10 tips for preventing and working through a bad trip.
After the experience is over, you’ll once again be in total control of your integration process. Much like after a plant medicine ceremony, this is where a supportive psychedelic integration coach is extremely helpful. Contact us to discover how we can help you derive more meaning from your psychedelic experience.
Intention Over Entertainment
Psychedelics can be incredibly life changing—even more so if they’re consumed intentionally. But the way in which you pursue this experience plays a huge role. Done properly, intentional psychedelic use has the potential to provide much more healing and spiritual growth than recreational psychedelic use does.
However, without the committed support of a psychedelic integration coach, two crucial aspects of intentional psychedelic use—preparation and integration—may quickly fall to the wayside. We don’t want that to happen just as much as you don’t want that to happen. To ensure that your intention is embedded in more than just the six, eight, or 14-hour experience, chat with us about working with a psychedelic coach or completing a one-on-one mentorship.