Many psychedelic researchers, when asked about their experiences with entheogens, shy away from the answers. And who can blame them? They can lose credibility by admitting to the use of psychedelics, because this, of course, makes them seem like unreliable druggies. The same can happen if they deny ever having ingested psychedelics because they cannot possibly understand the drugs without experiencing them. Darren Springer is not one of such researchers.
When I first met Springer at the ‘Entheogenesis Revisited’ event a few weeks ago, where he was to speak, I was nervous to ask about his psychedelic experiences. I didn’t want to put him in an uncomfortable or compromising position. He, however, was proud to admit that his use of magic mushrooms has changed his life for the better and he believes it can do the same for others.
Springer describes himself as a grassroots researcher, meaning he represents psychedelic research from an experimental point of view with hands-on experience and personal understanding. This, by default, means he has to be honest about his use of entheogens.
The Student had the privilege to conduct a face-to-face interview with Springer, during which he discussed how psychedelics can empower not only the currently represented “white hippies”, but also other demographics.
What inspired you to get informed on and try psychedelics?
I have been on a journey of personal development for most of my life now. I have been experimenting in trying to become a better version of myself and find out how far I can push my limits. In the last 15 years or so, I have been on this journey of creating altered states of consciousness. I found different methods of doing that: yoga, meditation, dream work, drumming you name it. Anything I found that could assist me in experiencing myself in different ways, I was interested in it.
Psychedelics kept on coming up. It wasn’t something I thought would be useful nor something I agreed with, but it kept coming up in the books I was reading and the research I was doing. As a researcher, being unbiased, I was forced to genuinely look into it. I had to explore what psychedelics are about and how useful they have been for other people – including those around me. Ultimately I began exploring it myself.
One of the primary inspirations for me came from my teacher, Kilindi Iyi, who showed me symbols and hidden meanings that were right in front of me and spoke of the historical significance of psychedelics.
How can taking psychedelics empower people?
I can give you an example that is relevant to my experience and community. There is something I’ve been looking at – epigenetics – where they’re reporting that you can basically pass trauma on from one generation to the other through your genes. Currently, MDMA and other psychedelics are being used to treat people with PTSD who might have experienced anything from being in an abusive relationship or addictions.
African people and their descendants have always been in a position where we’re not favoured in western society. We’ve always had to fight for our rights, you know, second class citizens so to speak. This has had psychological implications on us and is a subject that’s never really been addressed.
Now, imagine you have been experiencing and witnessing extreme violence, torture, rape and pillaging for over four hundred years and never received any real support, therapy or any way of dealing with the trauma. You are now at the bottom of the ladder in the society where you have been placed. You always have had to struggle and fight for an equal opportunity. Not only that, but you have been passing the entire trauma that comes with that on down the line.
We as a community have come very far against all odds without any real support, but the fact is we have some deeply rooted issues that we need to address. The mainstream options are not designed for us and our experience, and it doesn’t really work for those who it is designed for either.
We need to revisit and re-evaluate how we are going to resolve this. These entheogenic plants that I am researching have also helped so many people. You also have indigenous people around the world. If you visit and talk to them, you will find out that they don’t have many of the pathological problems that we are currently facing in our community in London.
Indigenous people live a very simple life, and yet they are peaceful and happy; to think that we are in the UK where we supposedly have everything and yet there are so many instances of violence, depression and suicide, it’s incredible.
I think, yes, we need a community evaluation, but we also need introspective experiences, and that is what these plants provide. They offer a new perspective so that ultimately we can come together as an empowered whole that is proactive and productive in providing solutions.
Do you think that the stigma of psychedelics has roots in race and oppression?
Most definitely. When I was growing up psychedelics were presented to me as a drug for white hippies. It was always a taboo – something I didn’t want to get into because most of the elders in my community would say that those are the drugs that send you mad.
There is also the layer of race. Disproportionate numbers of black people, if caught with drugs, whatever drugs they may be, are incarcerated. If me, a black man, is caught with drugs and you, a white young university student, are caught with the same drugs, I’m gonna go to jail for longer than you are. Those are just some of the issues that make psychedelics less accessible to my community and black people in general.
Have you felt the need to prove yourself more than others because you are a black man who is open about his use of psychedelics?
Yes, but what the plants have allowed me to do was to find faith in myself. I realised that others’ opinion of me or their belief in me doesn’t really matter. I am a gardener by trade and in a way that extends to what I do as an educator. There are different ways of sowing seeds. I could implement station sowing, where I’d plant 20 individual seeds in 20 individual holes and can expect them all to germinate. There is also another technique where you throw a fistful of seeds on the ground, give it a little rake and off you go: it’s called broadcasting. This is how I like to approach this now. I have some knowledge, knowledge is like a seed, I broadcast it, and whatever germinates germinates. Some may take this season, some the next, and some may lay dormant in the ground for hundreds of years before the conditions are right. I don’t put pressure on myself or anyone else to transform. Do you and get in where you fit in.
Overall, the ‘Entheogenesis Revisited’ event was a resounding success. The event also welcomed Dr David Luke, a senior lecturer of psychology at the University of Greenwich, as a speaker. Together, Springer and Luke explained the historical significance of psychedelics as well as more current research.
They were very relaxed and approachable. Like most events hosted by the Psychedelic Society of Edinburgh, the talks were both educational and inspiring.
Image credit: Amber Young