For many of us, an altered state of consciousness is reached by binge-watching Love Island while mainlining Maltesers after too many espresso martinis. But for a growing niche of wellness-obsessed women, it means turning to psychoactives traditionally used for ancient ceremonial or recreational experiences, such as micro-doses of LSD and ayahuasca (both very much illegal, we should add). So why are people using mind- bending, hallucinogenic drugs for therapeutic purposes? And should we be dusting off our ‘just say no’ placards, or looking for a legal alternative to recreate the high?
‘Reliance on technology and the strains of city life mean mental and emotional health issues are rife in our modern era,’ explains Ruby Warrington, founder of lauded cosmic lifestyle platform The Numinous and author of Material Girl Mystical World. ‘Many of these substances – like LSD and cannabis –are now being explored by health professionals as alternatives to antidepressants.’ And according to the Global Wellness Summit – a group of industry leaders from around the world who meet to solve shared problems – ‘Humans today want their stressed-out minds blown.’ The drugs themselves are, of course, illegal – and can be dangerous
in their own right, especially if misused. But ‘we’re seeing a growing interest in cognitive enhancers’, says Rhiannon McGregor, foresight writer at trends forecaster The Future Laboratory. ‘It’s a trend we first saw emerging in Silicon Valley in 2016, with the micro-dosing of psychedelics such as LSD.’
Neuroscientist Dr Tara Swart explains, ‘People have been using psychedelics for many years to reduce anxiety, stimulate the brain and promote activity. A recent study by Sussex University and Imperial College London found a rise in neural activity in people’s brains when taking them, which they called a “heightened state of consciousness”.’ However, she warns, ‘Using psychedelic drugs is not only illegal, but it’s a quick fix, and overuse to stimulate or calm the brain can lead to psychological dependency or worse. More natural methods, such as meditation or floatation therapy, have been proven to boost brain power and alertness in the longer-term.’
There’s been a surge in the use of nootropics and adaptogens (if those words mean nothing to you, read on to nd out what all the fuss is about). ‘It’s symptomatic of our time-poor, always-on society,’ adds Rhiannon, ‘that people are seeking out these shortcuts to address rising anxiety.’
Also known as the ‘spirit drug’ or ‘yagé’, ayahuasca has been used in shamanic practices as well as for ritual and healing purposes (mainly in South America) for centuries but has had a resurgence among stressed-out outliers over the last couple of years, with retreats cropping up the world over, and this brew is at the centre of it all. Structurally similar to serotonin – our natural ‘happy hormone’ – ayahuasca contains the psychoactive compound DMT, which brain scans from research by Nature Reviews Neuroscience have shown can decrease activity in our Default Mode Network (DMN) which, when overactive, is associated with depression and anxiety. ‘Plant medicines such as ayahuasca are said to be very effective in healing addiction issues and have helped many veterans suffering from PTSD,’ says Ruby, who emphasises the importance of weighing up the pros and cons in order to make an informed choice. But, she warns, as it’s illegal, anyone who tries it is at risk of a possible prison sentence. And as with any hallucinogenic, the drug can have implications for somebody with a history of mental health problems – and can in fact trigger such issues.
The legal alternative: Wellness brands have been exploring ways to recreate the ayahuasca trip, without the actual trip. The Global Wellness Summit identified a trend for multisensory experiences in spas and studios across the world. For example, the Woom Centre in New York combines visual projections, diffused scents and sound experiences in its ‘yoga concert’ class, while other places are employing virtual reality headsets, haptic (ie, interactive) technology and experiential pods, such as the AlphaSphere Deluxe at senspa.com, to help us get ‘out of our heads’. What’s more, they actually work. ‘I’ve had psychedelic and deeply emotional cathartic experiences in breathwork sessions set to music, without having used these substances myself,’ says Ruby, who adds that many people who practice Kundalini yoga also report seeing vivid visions in class.
Try: Reiki – channelling healing energy to combat stress and anxiety, while bringing about clarity and a sense of deep inner peace – with Shaylini (from £90 at thesacredself.co.uk). The Hypnotherapy Mind Massage at House of Gazelli, £185 (gazelli.com), incorporates a hypnotherapy recording to take you on a mental journey while releasing physical tensions.
Before becoming the ‘hot new business trip’ in Silicon Valley, with workers using it to enhance their creativity and productivity, LSD was the hippy drug of choice in the ’60s. But it’s a class-A drug and possession of it could land you up to seven years in prison. The modern trend for ‘micro-dosing’ (around a tenth of the standard dose) is said to give users added insight and an energy lift without feeling as though you’re tripping. But LSD can be unpredictable and suffering a ‘bad trip’ can lead to severe anxiety, paranoia and aggressive behaviour.
The legal alternative: Nootropics or ‘smart drugs’ are compounds that enhance brain function (which, we’re pleased to report, include caffeine) and are increasingly being used by university students to push their brains into a higher gear. Take cult Cali brand Bulletproof Coffee, which is like a souped-up version of your regular cup of Joe and has taken the US by storm. Invented by Silicon Valley investor and tech entrepreneur Dave Asprey, it blends high-grade coffee beans, unsalted grass-fed butter and ‘upgraded octane oil’ (like coconut oil but 18 times more potent in terms of enhancing cognitive and immune function) to ‘place you in a state of high performance’. ‘We’re seeing people turn to therapies like EEG brain trainers (a treatment that uses positive feedback while processing electrical brain signals from sensors attached to the scalp) and cryotherapy (a whole-body chamber that brings skin temperature down to below -100°C) to enhance brain functionality, with Bulletproof launching a “human upgrade centre” in Santa Monica that provides biohacking equipment designed to “supercharge bodies and brains”,’ says Rhiannon.
Try: Bulletproof Starter Octane Kit, £34 (functional self.co.uk), nootropic subscription box service hvmn. com, or introduce some brain-boosting adaptogens, such as ginkgo, into your diet, which studies have found can help improve memory recall and concentration, thanks to its ability to boost blood flow to the brain and stave off damage to the nerves through oxidation. We also love Moonjuice’s Brain Dust, £39 (cultbeauty.co.uk), which contains immune-boosting astragalus, maca and lion’s mane, as well as ginkgo, and can be stirred into your brew.