Faunce doesn’t allow the drugs in class, but they are honored in his course on the history of hallucinogens.
Hallucinogenic substances—those substances like LSD and psilocybin that cause “trips”— became visible to many Americans for the first time in the 1960s. But their use goes back much farther. As Faunce explained to the WSU newspaper, the Daily Evergreen, they embedded in some Native American cultures. Both North and South American Indian tribes have treasured them for centuries.
In these rituals, the drugs are intended to open the mind for enlightenment. They are said to aid users in receiving visions from the spirits or the gods.
“I think the science and the eroding of the cultural stigma of psychedelics goes hand in hand”
This historic practice of using psychedelics as a religious prop has led to a strange legal distinction in the US. While psychedelics are illegal in the US for most of us, that’s not the case for everyone. The Native American church is still allowed to use them because their role in Navajo religious practice is a serious and longstanding tradition.
Only a true member of the tribe can partake, however.
Outside this centuries-old use, psychedelics gained a more recent good-time vibe as thanks to their embrace by mostly young experimenters seeking a good trip. But that reputation undercuts their true value for therapy. Faunce explained to Evergreen reporter Amaan Rahman, that an important effect of psychedelics can be what he calls an “ego death.”
Sounds ominous, but according to Faunce, ego death has healing potential. It happens, he says, when a person taking a hallucinogenic loses their sense of self-identity for a while. In that process, they may shed some emotional baggage as well—old fears, worries about dying, addictions and anxiety can drop away.
A user called Matthew (not his real name) agrees with Faunce on that point. As he told the Evergreen, the “shrooms” he tried amazed him: “You have a three-hour long moment of profound clarity, where everything you don’t know about yourself, and that you don’t know about the world around you suddenly becomes perfectly clear.”
Serious interest in psychedelics is growing among people like Matthew who are partaking in guided ceremonies, called sessions. These group sessions provide structure and safety to the use of psychedelics, and they have helped reduce the old stigma and fears of a “bad trip” surrounding them.
While Faunce acknowledges that a bad hallucinogenic experience could cause long-term psychological damage, he says that’s a very rare event. It’s true of all drugs that are used in treating mental health issues.
“I think the science and the eroding of the cultural stigma of psychedelics goes hand in hand,” Faunce says.