What Do Psychedelic Drugs and Meditation have in common?
According to Steven Kotler, cofounder of the Flow Genome Project, most of the Silicon Valley executives nowadays take drugs, particularly micro-doses of psychedelic drugs. In case you don’t know, Silicon Valley is the hub of most of the major forces that shape our current world – Google, Apple, Facebook… you got the idea!
But what motivates this new breed of high achieving executives to experiment with psychedelic substances? High performance and productivity! Psychedelic drugs have turned from a recreational diversion, to a performance-enhancing supplement. In fact, elite executives experiment with any possible means available (including meditation) to achieve non-ordinary states of consciousness to ultimately accelerate and improve performance. Within this context, meditation is seen as a way to produce particular brain changes to achieve peak-performance.
Now the question is: do psychedelic drugs and meditation achieve the same results?
Thanks to technological advances, in the last 30 years or so, it has been possible to study the brain of long-term meditators. Scientists could finally understand and see in real time what happens in the brain when people meditate. These studies took meditation out of the spiritual realm and placed it in the scientific arena. And because now some neurobiological mechanisms of meditation are understood, the Western mind says: “why spend years of daily practise to achieve Samadhi, if I can take a drug that gives the same results within minutes?”. Very logical indeed, why to waste time? Time is money, and we need to perform better and progress faster!
In this vision, spirituality is reduced to a by-product of brain function, a sub-category of bio-chemistry if you like. Consciousness is seen as an epiphenomenon of matter. As if Enlightenment can be achieved by some magical neurochemical combination.
I find Osho very helpful to clear up the blurred vision on this topic. He says that yes drugs do change chemistry, but do not change consciousness. Consciousness cannot be changed by anything from the outside, it is beyond chemicals. When taking a drug, it is like having an experience which ends when the neurochemical changes in the brain go back to baseline.
Drugs do have a place, if people feel like trying them out: they could be used as a stepping stone, to give a glimpse of the experience; but it’s not the real thing. Have you ever thought of how many people took psychedelic drugs and how many Buddhas have been borne out of it? If it was that simple… On the contrary, I am not aware of any Enlightened being who achieved self-realisation by taking drugs. In this sense, drugs can prevent spiritual growth, because they stop the search by giving the illusion to have achieved.
In addition, there is also a medical observation to consider. Drugs try to enter the delicate neurochemical chain by flooding the entire body with synthetic hormones that mimic the correct chemical function. When a drug floods the system with a non-native molecule there is no telling where it might end up. Every drug has side effects and creates resistance.
On the contrary, meditation does not have side effects and does not create resistance. Even more, by changing the chemistry via natural means, the body gets used to produce those beneficial responses even without direct stimuli. Healthy genetic and chemical pathways are stimulated spontaneously for long-term beneficial effects.
I personally use natural methods to change my chemistry: nutrition, fasting, training, breathing exercises and cold exposure. They effectively work like drugs, by changing the chemistry. And I am no under illusion that by just doing that, I will become Enlightened. Consciousness can grow only by daily practice, by trying to be aware every moment.
So psychedelic drugs might (or might not?) help Silicon Valley executives to improve their performance by stimulating creativity and lateral thinking. However, it should not be confused with meditation. Meditation is about growing your consciousness, which is far beyond basic brain chemistry.