When Jonathan Thompson reflects upon the life he lived before taking his first sip of the hallucinogenic brew ayahuasca, he recalls a redundant, meaningless existence: Roughly eight years as a functional alcoholic with most days stuck in a routine of getting up, going to work, and coming home to numb his sadness with booze until passing out on the couch.
Get up, go to work, pass out, repeat…
Then Thompson took what people in ayahuasca communities call a “journey” — a psychedelic experience during which participants say they “work” on their internal space. They drink the thick, herbaceous liquid reminiscent of molasses, derived from the ropelike vine of the Amazonian ayahuasca plant. People who describe their experiences with ayahuasca say it makes them sink into a deep analysis of their thoughts and emotions, usually for eight to 12 hours.
“I had this incredible experience,” Thompson said. “I went from being drunk every day to not having any desire to drink alcohol. I was not an abusive person, but I was depressed and angry and self-absorbed a lot. I became this person who’s [now] present for my kids and joyful and alert. For me, [ayahuasca] is not just like some hard-to-define thing that’s making me a better person spiritually, it made me a better person.”
In 2013 Thompson, inspired by how his experiences on psychedelics transformed him into a better father, founded the blog and podcast Psychedelic Parenting. And no, he emphasizes, his philosophy is not about giving hallucinogens to minors. Psychedelic Parenting offers an online forum for parents who choose to be open with their children about their own use of psychedelic drugs for spiritual and therapeutic purposes. It’s “a resource for passing on the values of plant medicines to our children,” according to the blog’s Facebook page.
The top five values of Psychedelic Parenting, says one of its blog contributors, Daphne Dawn, are spiritual growth and openness, conscious living, infinite curiosity, radical honesty, and authentic expression.
Psychedelic parents say their spiritual drug use helps them embody the values they hope to pass on to their children. It’s only natural then, Thompson said, for these parents to be open with their kids about these revelatory experiences.
“We’re now the third or fourth generation of people in European-derived society who have been doing this, and we still haven’t figured out how to talk about it,” Thompson said. “I wanted to be a part of what was going to change attitudes and change cultures and I couldn’t do that by hiding.”
Psychedelic parents say they do not volunteer information their children aren’t ready for. But when a kid asks a question, they answer it. Truthfully. Always.
“You just say, ‘I’m still your parent, I’m still a good person, and this is a source of a lot of joy and something that’s important to my life,’ ” Thompson said. He is starting to have such conversations with his oldest child, his nine-year-old son. Thompson and his wife of 14 years, Nicole, also have two daughters.
The Thompson family lives in Lansing, Michigan. Thompson graduated from nearby Michigan State University with a degree in anthropology and Eastern religions. Nothing about his appearance or day-to-day routine indicates an alternative lifestyle. He’s 37, bald with a neatly groomed red goatee, and brown square-frame glasses. He speaks in an upbeat, gentle manner — an approachable quality that helps him in his mission to show that his spiritual practice doesn’t make him an enigma.
When Thompson’s not blogging, he’s managing a holistic health practice with massage therapists and chiropractors. Nicole stays at home with their children.
“Even people who haven’t had kids yet talk to me about this stuff and say, ‘I appreciate that you’re building this cultural container,’” Thompson said. “Who knows how many people are out there who want to share their stories. Most people are like, ‘I can’t say anything about this,’ because they’re afraid of Child Protective Services. And that’s a pretty dark place to be in for this subculture.”
Researchers such as Marsha Rosenbaum, director emerita of the San Francisco office of the national Drug Policy Alliance, believe drug education in general is most effective when, like the psychedelic parenting approach, it prioritizes radical honesty. Rosenbaum supports encouraging abstinence, but she also believes that it’s best to be frank with children about the different drugs and their effects. Such an approach, she said, helps young people feel more comfortable with coming to their parents when they need help. If parents lie, they risk losing credibility.
Rosenbaum’s “reality based” proposal can be found in a booklet she wrote for the Drug Policy Alliance, called Safety First, which has been requested and distributed more than 350,000 times to people around the world.
For most parents, she said, the barrier to changing how they talk about drugs with their children runs deeper than rationality. “I think your first thought is it’s about fear. It’s about fear that the kids — especially when it comes to kids — will lose control.”
Rosenbaum agrees with a theory put forth by many scholars that much of how Americans view drug use is rooted in the tenets of the temperance movement of the early 1900s. Protestant Christianity has historically valued self-control and taught that drugs threatened the loss of it. This view led to moral crusades, such as Prohibition’s ban on alcohol in the United States from 1920 to 1933, that created a fear of all substances perceived to cause erratic behavior.
“What I have called ‘drug scares’ have been a recurring feature of U.S. society for 200 years. They are relatively autonomous from whatever drug-related problems exist or are said to exist,” Craig Reinarman, professor of sociology and legal studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, wrote in a chapter titled “The Social Construction of Drug Scares” for the book Constructions of Deviance: Social Power, Context and Interaction.
The drugs most commonly discussed in the psychedelic parenting community include LSD, MDMA, DMT, psilocybin mushrooms, ayahuasca, and peyote. It’s hard to estimate the number of psychedelic parents, but longer posts on the Facebook page for Thompson’s blog often get 1,000 to 1,500 views. About 100 people are active participants on the forum, Thompson said. These parents tend to be a part of the psychedelic movement, including people such as psilocybin researcher Katherine MacLean and Medicine Children blogger Harmony Sue Haynie.
Psychedelic parenting communities have no established routines for taking drugs spiritually. The parents say they will often use these substances when they feel “called to them.” They see the drugs as therapy for times in life when they believe some introspection would be helpful.
Prominent visual artists and psychedelic parents Alex Grey and Allyson Grey spoke at The World Psychedelic Forum in 2008 about raising their only daughter, Zena, who was born in 1988. “If we wanted to take a psychedelic, we didn’t include [Zena] in that experience,” Allyson Grey said. “We would basically get a babysitter and we would go somewhere.”
The Greys had three reasons for not taking the drugs at home, Allyson explained: They didn’t want to act strange and confuse their daughter; they wanted to be fully present in case she needed their attention; and they didn’t want her to be concerned that what they were doing was illegal.
Alex and Allyson also cut back signficantly on their use of psychedelic drugs when Zena was between eight and 12 years old, a period when kids tend to be rule-conscious. “I know friends who were users who gave up during that period so they wouldn’t worry their children,” Allyson said.
One of the biggest challenges psychedelic parents say they face is explaining to their children why their use of hallucinogens is condemned by American society. Kids typically learn one thing at school and another at home, and the burden of resolving the cognitive dissonance falls on the parents.
Parents take on that challenge by comparing psychedelics to the social acceptance of drinking. In 2013, 70 percent of Americans over the age of 18 years old had consumed alcohol within the last year, according to a report by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. In comparison, according to a 2013 Huffington Post/ YouGov poll, less than 10 percent of Americans support the legalization of acid and ayahuasca. Psychedelic advocates say celebrities such as Steve Jobs, Susan Sarandon, and other Silicon Valley heavyweights who have opened up about their mind-expanding psychedelic experiences may play a role in changing those views.
In many cases, psychologists who have researched the effects of MDMA, ayahuasca, acid, and psilocybin mushrooms have advocated for their therapeutic value. MDMA, for example, has been remarkably effective at treating post-traumatic stress disorder in military veterans.
In research conducted by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), 83 percent of people with PTSD no longer met the criteria for having the disorder after they underwent MDMA-assisted psychotherapy. A study at the University of Arizona Medical Center determined that psilocybin mushrooms could help treat obsessive-compulsive disorder. Johns Hopkins University has done studies showing psilocybin mushrooms produce “substantial spiritual effects” which last more than a year.
Psychedelic parents use this information when discussing how other cultures revere psychedelics as medicine, pointing to how some indigenous Amazonian tribes and Native Americans introduce children to these drugs when they are as young as six years old.
A YouTube video from 2008 of a Santo Daime congregation in Fortaleza, Brazil shows how central psychedelics are to early childhood education in some communities. In the video, about 40 parents gather with their sons and daughters — some easily younger than 10 years old — singing what sounds like a simple children’s song and making rhythm with rattles. They sit on white plastic chairs under an outdoor cabana. Some of the kids jump around to the music and others sit on their parents’ laps. The children are not following along to any old melody though — they’re learning the chants they’ll sing when they, too, do ayahuasca in a few years.
“I think this is one of our biggest problems as entheogen [psychedelic] users and parents: We’re lacking context for the use of the substances in a kind of sacred setting,” Alex Grey said at the 2008 World Psychedelic Forum.
The Peyote Way Church of God, a nondenominational organization on 160 acres in southeastern Arizona, is one of a few places in the United States where people who are not born into sacred medicine cultures can easily and legally consume hallucinogens. The church was founded in 1978 by psychedelic parents Anne Zapf and Matthew Kent (the couple allowed their children to take peyote for the first time when each child was 14 years old). According to a 2014 Village Voice article, about 120 to 140 people from around the United States and the world take peyote at the church each year.
In an essay about raising her three children around the church, Zapf wrote: “We explained that plant sacraments have a long history of safe religious use among indigenous people. As the children got older we also discussed more complicated issues surrounding the topic of drugs, like the politics and profitability of pharmaceutical drugs, and their subsequent listing as legal or illegal.”
While all these types of conversations begin at home, the ultimate goal of psychedelic parenting is much more ambitious. Like most parents, psychedelic families hope to pass their values onto their children so that as they grow up they can impact positive change in the world.
Rapidly shifting perspectives on marijuana use have given the psychedelic parenting community hope. According to a March 2015 Pew Research Center poll, 53 percent of Americans support the legalization of marijuana, up from 12 percent in 1969. Psychedelics expert Rick Doblin, founder of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, said in a talk at the 2015 Horizons Conference that this change in attitude happened after people began to realize that their ailing loved ones were getting real relief from marijuana. Doblin predicts a similar transition will occur with psychedelics when more people begin to share the beneficial experiences they have had with them.
And who will fuel this change? Potentially, a generation of kids raised by psychedelic parents.
This article originally appeared on PrimeMind and is republished here with permission.