Using Psychedelics for Growth, Mental Health, Creativity, and Performance with Paul Austin

Content By: Ari Whitten & Paul Austin

In this episode, I am speaking with Paul Austin – the CEO of the Third Wave and a leading voice in the use of psychedelics for personal growth, creative insight, and professional transformation. We will talk about the latest science on psychedelics, micro-dosing, and more.

Get $500 discount off of Paul’s program. Click here and enter the code: 3RDWAVE

Table of Contents

In this podcast, Paul and I discuss: 

  • The misconception about drugs
  • The biggest benefits of psychedelics
  • What is the best approach to psychedelics
  • Paul’s take on the future of mental health

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Ari Hey there, this is Ari. Welcome back to the Energy Blueprint Podcast. In this episode, I am speaking with Paul Austin, who is the CEO of the Third Wave, and one of the leading voices on the use of psychedelics for personal growth, creative insight, and professional transformation. This is an area that, especially in the last 10 years, has absolutely exploded after several decades of essentially being banned, being illegal to research.

There is now a massive reemergence of this in the scientific community for the last decade or 15 years or so, and with absolutely game-changing, mental health field transforming results in many, many cases when it comes to conditions like PTSD, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression, anxiety, and many, many other conditions. As well as a lot of implications for the already well. These are things that we get into in depth in this podcast.

A little bit more about Paul before we get into the episode. He sees psychedelic use as a skill, which is cultivated through clear intention, supportive mentorship, and courageous exploration. He believes that mastering this skill is crucial in the story of humanity’s present and future. He’s a coach, author, and CEO of the Third Wave, which is a comprehensive online resource for all things, psychedelics, and they offer online courses, and coaching certification programs. With no further ado, enjoy this conversation with Paul Austin. I certainly did, and I think you’ll get a lot of value from it.

Welcome to the show, Paul. Such a pleasure to have you.

Paul Austin: Thanks for having me on, Ari. It’s an honor to be here for the podcast today to talk about microdosing and all of what that entails; the good, the bad, and the beautiful, so to say.

Ari: Absolutely. Tell me, first of all, how did you get into this whole realm of psychedelics? What’s the background story here behind your brand the Third Wave?

Paul: The path in is somewhat unconventional. If someone saw where I was now today, a thought leader on psychedelics, talking about the future paradigms of civilization, they would never guess that I grew up in a relatively traditional religious family in the Midwest of the United States. In some ways, I was always a bit of a black sheep, and also interested in basically illegal substances, for lack of a better term.

At the age of 16, I tried cannabis for the first time, and did it a few times until my parents found out. Because of the culture that I was raised in, the morality was really dictated by Christianity, and even what the law said was good, was good. What the law said was bad, was bad. I remember sitting down with my parents–

Ari: As far as your family and societal cultural context.

Paul: In the Midwest, in Michigan, yes, it’s very black and white that way. It’s more salt of the earth type of people. My dad sat down and said this is the most disappointed that he had been since his brother had passed away in a car accident. The most hurt he had been because I’d smoked weed.

Ari: That’s pretty intense.

Paul: Which is super intense and goes to show the conditioning and the lack of education, I suppose, on some of these drugs and substances.

Ari: In response, you decided to step up your game as far as the hardness of the drugs you were using?

Paul: [laughs] I remember the media thing it was like, fuck the talk, more shame to take in. I had to release it. I like went on a walk, tried to let it go, everything resolved as it needed to. A few years later, at the age of 19, the same friend who introduced me to cannabis also introduced me to psychedelics, of course, as one does. This time it was a really profound, insightful, life-changing experience.

Cannabis helped me to manage fitting into my peer group and social anxiety in high school. When I did psychedelics at the age of 19, it was all of a sudden, like, holy shit, this entirely new world opened up, this entire new paradigm. The choice in the decision I made from those early psychedelic experiences was freedom is my north star. I won’t be contained or held back by the conditioning of the culture that I was raised in because I think it’s pretty fucked up and sick, for the most part.

Instead, how can the wisdom that come through psychedelics and plant medicine inspire and inform a new way of not only approaching psychedelics but approaching healthcare, approaching education, approaching business, approaching all these systemic things? From that, I moved to Thailand. I lived in Turkey. I traveled to 60 to 70 countries, sort of lived a life of a digital nomad, and then in 2015, I was living in Budapest.

More research was coming out. Tim Ferris and Joe Rogan were talking about it. Cannabis was becoming more and more legal. We just made a decision with a couple friends, like if we build a content platform now that recontextualizes psychedelics not as these play things of the counterculture, but as tools for the leaders of tomorrow, then we could really help to position these in such a way where people can actually leverage them for their real utility and benefit rather than just disassociating and dropping out like what had happened in the ’60s.

A new approach to drugs

Ari: Got it. At this point, there’s going to be a segment of listeners who are totally on board with everything you’re saying. Maybe they’ve already got quite a bit of knowledge around psychedelics, what they do, maybe personal experience, maybe knowledge of some of the research that’s been taking place in the last decade or so on this.

There is another segment, maybe a large segment of people who are listening to this who are totally unfamiliar with any of this stuff, who might still be in a context where they think of anything in the psychedelics’ realm as illegal drugs that are bad, that are addictive, that mess up your brain. That it’s all just about hallucinating things, and getting high, and escaping reality. All these kinds of negative associations that people have formed around the word drugs.

Before we lose all of those people, and before they drop off, what do you want to say to those people to get them to listen to the rest of what you have to say?

Paul: That’s a great ontic switcher. I think the core thing is that our capacity and awareness around the nuances of drugs is elementary in Western culture. That alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine, which are the three normalized normative drugs in everyday society, caffeine is generally healthy, although addictive, both alcohol and tobacco, not so much. Both addictive, both are not good for you, both can cause cancer, et cetera, et cetera. Yet we have a-

Ari: I want to just add one brief little thing that, in society, we’ve also normalized to those drugs of caffeine and alcohol, as most people don’t even think of them as drugs. Many of the people who regularly consume those drugs will have all kinds of negative judgements towards other drugs, while not realizing that they themselves are consuming drugs.

Paul: In a way, the desire for intoxication, it’s a human instinct that’s driven by evolutionary biology. We’ve always been looking for ways to find intoxication. Historically, if you look at humanity’s use of psychedelics, Aristotle and Plato used to use something called Kykeon, which was a psychedelic beverage. You had Soma, which was used in ancient India, ayahuasca in the Amazon.

As a human species, we’ve had a long relationship with these substances. Time and time again, they’re often used for a spiritual connection, a spiritual opening, a spiritual awakening, connection to something greater than ourselves. What’s so fascinating about them is, unlike alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine, psychedelics are actually– they’re not only not addictive, they’re anti-addictive. There are clinical trials proving the efficacy of both psilocybin mushrooms, LSD, and ayahuasca on mitigating and eliminating certain addictions; nicotine addiction, alcoholism, and other addictive behaviors. In fact, there was a UK home minister in 2010, his name is David Nutt, who approached the UK government and said, “Look, taking ecstasy, MDMA, is actually less risky than riding a horse. For that reason, we should actually eliminate the prohibition of MDMA.” The UK government said, “You’re ridiculous,” and they fired him promptly. Just after they fired him, there was a piece published in The Economist, which we can maybe put in the show notes or something, where they showed the potential upside and downside of all drugs,  for safety profile.

The two safest substances were psilocybin mushrooms, that was the safest one, and then LSD was the second one. I think that nuanced then that we bring to psychedelics where we’re like, “Okay, if use–” This is important, if used with intention, and if used in a structured container, if used potentially with the support of a guide, or a therapist, or a coach, then the transformation that psychedelics can catalyze is significant.

Now, what’s great about the last 15 years is we have reams of scientific literature to support that hypothesis, if you will.

The Third Wave

Ari: Basically, if I can summarize that briefly, and also add my little bit to that, to help people hang on and be open to this message of this podcast. We now know that these are not just drugs that allow people to get high and escape reality and are abusive, are addictive, are destructive to one’s brain but we have, as you said, reams of science showing that people often say that these are subjectively some of the most powerful experiences of their entire life, and reams of data showing profound life-altering transformative benefits to a number of different conditions, such as PTSD, such as depression, such as anxiety, things of that nature, and also have benefits for the already well, which I hope to talk about as well.

What does the Third Wave refer to? What is this a reference to? Why the Third Wave?

Paul: One of the core philosophies that I live by, which I discovered through Nassim Taleb, who wrote Antifragile and Black Swan, and all that, is this concept of the Lindy Effect. The Lindy Effect says that the longer an idea or technology has been utilized, the more likely it will be utilized for the next decade, for the next 100 years, for the next millennium. If you look at something like the Bible, which was written 1,700 years ago, the fact that the Bible has been around for long means that there is a significant likelihood that it will also be around 1,000 years from now, 1,500 years from now.

When I look at psychedelics, and I perceive psychedelics, let’s say, as a technology, the fact that we, as humans, have been using this potentially for tens, of thousands of years, is a strong indicator that, not only for the next decade, for the next 100 years, but for the next 1,000 years, that we will continue to have a relationship with these substances because they’ve proven useful and efficacious again, and again, and again, and again, throughout history for certain for certain reasons.

The way they’re being contextualized in modern-day Western industrial culture is different than, obviously, in ancient Greece, because it’s a different time and a place, but the core mechanism of action of what they facilitate is that, again, that spiritual awakening, that spiritual experience. There’s a way in which Nietzsche would always talk about how time is circular.

We, in Western society, we often think of time as linear, going in just a straight direction rather than really understanding how it repeats itself. Eastern mythology and Eastern religion, there’s a much more sense of a circular nature to things. In studying history and studying how things have done before, it significantly informs where we’re going from here, route this in a practical perspective.

The first wave of psychedelics then is the indigenous use for thousands of years. Three Western industrial culture, how will we utilize psychedelics? How did the Greeks utilize them? How did the Aztecs? How did the Jenkins? How did those in the Brazilian Amazon, the Aboriginals, those in ancient India? There’s a wide use of psychoactive substances in the Middle East as well with psychedelics.

The ritual that comes from that, the relationship through nature and to nature through the use of these, the intuitive understanding of what they can facilitate and bring about, the shamanic practices that are incorporated with these medicines is significant. Yet, there’s significant upside as well to a scientific methodology coming out these from an objective perspective, looking at how we can personalize these treatments to the needs of people.

The second wave is what I would call the counterculture of the ’50s and ’60s. It’s when LSD specifically came back on the scene, and, all of a sudden, we had this tool in the ’50s, where over 1,000 Clinical papers were published on the efficacy of LSD for a range of conditions, from anxiety, to alcoholism, to depression, to PTSD, you name it. Because of the counterculture of the ’60s and the hippies and how everything got out of control, we had a massive backlash.

There were certain gems that came out of the ’50s and ’60s around applying a rigorous scientific methodology to what is a very ethereal and hard-to-understand experience, and substance. When I look at the Third Wave then, part of the philosophy that I ascribe to is Daoism. In Daoism, we’re always looking at what’s the middle point. What’s the balance between the Yin and Yang, between the up and the down, between the dark and the light?

With the Third Wave, I’m really looking at how do we balance the lineage, the ritual, the animistic elements that come forth in working with these plant medicines that have been used for thousands of years and how do we marry that with cutting-edge scientific methodology with oura rings, with blood tests, with other ways that we can utilize data to create ideal protocols for people based on where they’re at.

I think if there’s one thing that a lot of people who are listening to this podcast would agree upon is that a lot of these mainstream healthcare approaches are incredibly ineffective and they’re treating humans like robots and machines.

I think part of what psychedelics help us to recognize and realize and understand is that we have a soul, and that we are not machines, and that there’s deep wisdom in actually turning inwards and listening to our intuition and then taking that intuition and working with it to actually create a life that we want to live, more or less that’s aligned, that’s authentic, that allows for full energetic flow, and that is going to be different for every single individual, because we’re all unique in so many different ways.

The biggest benefits of psychedelics

Ari: Broadly speaking, what would you say are some of the biggest benefits of psychedelics?

Paul: I would say the core benefit, and that a lot of the research is tying into– Before I go into this actually, to distinguish between high doses, because up to this point in time, we’ve been talking a lot about more of the high dose, classic psychedelic experience. There’s also microdosing, which I know we will talk a little bit more as well. I’ll talk about the relationship between those two in terms of the benefits.

The core benefit is the spiritual experience, the spiritual awakening, this connection to God, to source, to nature, to the mystery, to something ineffable, something that we can’t describe. A core element of our existential malaise in modern society is a feeling of disconnection, a feeling of isolation, a feeling as if there’s nothing meaningful that’s beyond it. It’s like this really disgusting nihilism has taken hold of culture, and it’s led to skyrocketing rates of addiction, of depression, of anxiety, of suicidality, et cetera.

The initial research that they did in 2006, at Johns Hopkins, with psilocybin, they proved that psilocybin could occasion a mystical-type experience, and that mystical-type– I know, so crazy.

Ari: I like that you’re using the actual words from that scientific paper. I always thought that was odd wording that they used in that paper, “Occasions the mystical experience,” or something to that effect.

Paul: I saw the principal investigator Roland Griffiths, speak about it at a conference many years ago and he said about 1% to 2% of people have these emergent, random, mystical experiences where they have a connection to God or whatever, like something just happens. For the rest of us, we don’t normally have that come-to-Jesus moment, for the vast majority of our people.

Ari: You mean in the absence of psilocybin or on the–

Paul: Sorry, in the absence of psilocybin, usually 1% to 2% of people will have that. When we’re working with psilocybin, what they showed in that early research is upwards of 80% of people have elements of a classic mystical experience, and that, actually, the more profound that connection is, the deeper that experience, the longer the benefits from that experience lasts.

Things like more peace, more equanimity, more of a willingness to try to meditate or reevaluate toxic relationships or diet. It could be things like, again, if we’re looking at depression and addiction, they aren’t depressed for the first time in 5 years, 10 years, 15 years, 20 years. Maybe they’ve been smoking cigarettes for 20 years. They don’t have cravings anymore. There’s something deep and significant that stems from that connection to something greater, and I think, a lot of it,my interpretation of it is there’s so much that we are held back by that can be boiled down to a fear of death, and I think it’s a big death, where we feel constrained by a fear of being obliterated and a fear of being wrong, and a fear of being, all these sorts of things.

What psychedelics facilitate through that spiritual experience is they often allow us to see beyond the illusion of death, and they allow us to see that death is really just another turning in the cycle of time, and that we will just simply, after death, fallback into this oceanic boundlessness.

There’s this incredible courage that then comes forth after having that experience where, like in my own life, I was like, “Well, fuck if I only get one existence.” It really helps you to come to terms with how short life is. If I only get this one existence, then I want to create it in such a way that would be legendary, so to say, that would inspire, and that, more than anything, will actually help make the world a better place, that will be in service and that will help to catalyze that. There’s also that–

Ari: By the way, that’s almost identical to the main takeaway from my first psychedelic experience, 12 years– maybe 11 years ago or so.

Paul: I was about 12, 13 years ago. Was it with psilocybin or?

Ari: 5-MeO-DMT.

Paul: Oh, you started with 5-MeO-DMT?

Ari: Yes, which I wouldn’t recommend to other people. If I could do it all over again, I would certainly not do that.

Paul: What were the shifts for you coming out of that? What changed?

Ari: Well, in many ways, the fact that we’re here having this conversation right now it’s very much related to that. It altered my whole career trajectory from that moment. It was at the time– Without getting too detailed here, I don’t want to consume too much of the time with my own personal story, but I was in a PhD program for clinical psychology, and I was in my second year maybe at the time. That experience was completely mind-blowing.

It felt, subjectively, like I had accomplished, in one night, what I might accomplish in 10,000 hours of psychotherapy. Even to go further than that, which sounds like hyperbole, it felt like there were things that were communicated to me that night that I could have never accessed in talk psychotherapy, not to take anything away from that. It has its place, it has value. There’s many contexts where it’s very beneficial, but this experience was quantum beyond anything that I could have even conceptualized was possible for a human to experience.

Whatever the intensity was of what a human, the maximal most intense state of consciousness and revelations that I thought a human could experience, it was probably 100 or 500 fold beyond that. It was way, way beyond what I could conceptualize was even possible to experience, and because of that, one of the main takeaways was was basically follow your bliss, in Joseph Campbell’s words, and to stop trying to jump through these hoops of societal pressures, family pressures, and to follow where my heart is and where my bliss is, and do what I’m most passionate about and what brings me the most energy and passion and joy.

That’s when I decided, after I had completed all three years of coursework for the PhD in clinical psychology, and I decided to make the hard decision of not pursuing that, and then going to start an online business teaching people about nutrition and health. I’ve been through a lot of years of graduate school without many fancy letters to show after my last name, but yes, it’s all worked out well in the end.

Paul: Yes. That’s the path. It’s like one thing leads to another, and, oftentimes, the path that we take, it’s not our path, it’s a path our parents want. It’s a path our high school teachers want, or college professors want. It’s a path that maybe broader culture or the community that we were raised in wants, and when we work with psychedelics in this way, and I think you and I were both fortunate to do it at a relatively young age, when we’re starting to make one of the important defining decisions of our life, which is what do I want to create in the world? How do I want to serve? To have that be informed by and have courage come forth through that, it was such a gift and a blessing.

What you also know in going through it, and I think this is an important part to emphasize for those who are listening is, this isn’t just taking a drug and seeing what happens. This really is, you have the opening, you have the awareness, you have the insight in the experience, but it still takes a commitment to show up every day and actually, for some people, fundamentally shift their entire reality, which is not easy.

It’s not easy to cut out toxic relationships at times. It’s not easy to change our diet and our sleep and our exercise. It’s not easy to start meditating. The reason I think psychedelics are so beneficial, and this will bring me to microdosing, is, even with something like microdosing, where it’s helping to keep that window of neuroplasticity open for longer because one of the reasons psychedelics help so much with behavioral change is because they’re introducing a lot of chaos into the brain.

It’s entropy, it’s more entropy. A lot of us, we have brains and even entire selves that are very rigid because, again, we have this machine set and setting that we’ve been raised within. There’s a lot of rigidity within our entire sense of self. Psychedelics it’s like dropping a mail of armor that you’ve been wearing for 20 years. Breaking out of that rigidity, then we go, “Oh, I actually have the capacity to do whatever it is that I want to do.”

Okay, if that’s the case, if I have this insight, this awareness, well then how do I actually create that? It’s one thing to have the dream, it’s one thing to have the insight. It’s a whole another thing to actually make that come to fruition.

This is what I emphasize in our training program for coaches. This is what I emphasize through our own podcast again and again, psychedelics are the tool and they’re a phenomenal tool, but they’re not the thing itself. The thing itself is still you, your decision every day to make that choice, to show up for yourself, and then actually utilizing this open window of, again, neuroplasticity, whether it’s with high doses or microdosing, to weave in a totally new way of being, to meditate more often, to be more mindful about the food that you’re eating, to just get out and move more, to cut out that toxic relationship or open up your heart with more vulnerability to a new relationship.

Whatever that looks like, they just make that process– It’s like a lubricant for the subconscious and the unconscious is what I talk about. So often when we’re stuck in our personality, when we’re stuck in our ego, we have this, “I’m Paul Austin and I do this and I do this, and I don’t do this, and I don’t do this, and I just exist in this little thing.” Then psychedelics come along and it’s like, “Holy shit, I am all these other things as well. I’m not just what I think I am, and a lot of the emotions or the stories that I’ve been repressing are actually fundamental to me thriving as a human on this planet.”

How psychedelics affect the human body

Ari: Beautifully said. Circa 2023, given that there’s been a decade plus now of extensive research in this area, what do we know about what is objectively happening in the human being? We could say, in the brain, because of course that’s where most of the research focuses, but what is happening in the human being and in the brain of someone who is undergoing the psychedelic experience? How does that relate to the subjective experience that someone is having, which you’ve spoken a lot to as far as the contents of that subjective experience, but what’s happening physiologically?

Paul: That’s a great question. I’m going to focus on the classic psychedelics as a way to contextualize this. There are a lot of psychedelics, and there are some substances like MDMA and ketamine that some people would consider to be psychedelic and some would not consider to be psychedelic. For this, I’ll focus on LSD, psilocybin, and then mescaline. Mescaline’s in huachuma and peyote, these are the three most common psychedelics. What these all share in common is that when we work with these substances, if we’re looking at this neurobiologically, they activate something called the 5-HT2A receptor in the brain, which is one of 14 serotonin receptors in that brain. That serotonin receptor is tied to executive functioning. It’s tied to decision making. It’s tied to even visual aspects, which is why when we take apsychedelic, we sometimes have visual changes in our field.

What happens when we open up that 5-HT2A receptor, when that gets activated, the key mechanism of action and why psychedelics are so helpful compared to, let’s say SSRIs or other substances, is because they do not numb us to what is going on. What they do is they allow for a catharsis. That catharsis then, and this is where neurobiology maps onto Jungian psychology, that catharsis allows for a digging up of subconscious or unconscious patterns. A digging up of repressed emotions or stories that have been traumatic or difficult.

Some people would even classify it as “Shadow work.” Psychedelics allow for some aspect of shadow work to happen. When that’s happening, it can be uncomfortable. When you’re in the throes of an experience, there can be purging. There’s a lot of crying, there’s a lot of anger. There can be a lot of these negative emotions that a lot of us repress on an everyday basis come forward and need to be fully felt.

Now, what’s happening in conjunction with that, from a physiological perspective, is when we activate something like the five 5-HT2A receptor, which again, is tied to executive functioning, also neuroplasticity, BDNF, Brain-Derived Neurotropic Factor, which is a precursor to neuroplasticity, is being significantly increased, and it stays that way for at least one to two weeks after that high dose experience.

There’s more production of BDNF, there’s greater neuroplasticity. What’s also happening is, as many of your listeners likely know, we’re not just living from the neck up. There’s a ton of stuff that’s going on in our gut as well. 90% of our serotonin receptors are actually located in the gut. Although most of the science, at this point in time, is focusing on the 5-HT2A serotonin receptor activation, there’s a ton of research just so for the last couple years that’s looking at the anti-inflammatory impact of psychedelic substances and how, if we can utilize these substances to mitigate chronic inflammation, how they could be key not only to heal chronic diseases, but also potentially for longevity, and mitochondrial plasticity and ATP production and things of that nature.

There’s really this phenomenal head gut experience happening when we’re doing this high dose of a psychedelic that generally allows for a more flexible sense of self that interrupts the normal rigidity of everyday life. Then, again, for a week or two after, what’s so key is then that integration process. When we talk about psychedelics, it’s not just, “Okay, you smoke 5-MeO, and see you later,” although unfortunately, some facilitators do that. It’s a container that we’re setting.

There’s preparation leading up to it to clarify our intention. There’s the experience itself, and then there’s integration after the experience. What’s key then is to focus that integration phase for, let’s say, the month after that experience, what I would say like a keystone habit or a keystone thing. To really focus that time and energy. If you’re someone who you’ve always heard about the benefits of meditation, you maybe even tried it a time or two, but it’s never really stuck for you. What I often encourage those who are new to this is really commit to establishing a habit of meditation for that first month after that psychedelic experience.

Because those benefits that we experience with taking a psychedelic, they’re somewhat temporary. If you just go in again and again and again, and you don’t put in the work after to actually integrate these insights and these new awareness and the news behaviors, then, for a lot of people, it’s just another drug experience, and it’s not something that’s actually meaningful and significant for fundamental behavioral change. Does that help? Is that is that comprehensive enough in terms of– Okay. Good.

The differences between the most common psychedelics

Ari: Yes, I think it’s a great answer. Hard question to do distinctly. Can you briefly describe maybe some of the key differences or qualities of some of the different substances? Comparing, let’s say, psilocybin versus ayahuasca versus 5-MeO-DMT versus LSD, MDMA, ketamine.

Paul: There’s a metaphor that I’ll use to help to contextualize it for your audience. Think of it as like a lotus flower metaphor. It’s a lotus flower. We have three elements. We have the soil that we plant the flower in, we have the new seed that is planted, and then we have the blossoming and the flourishing of that seed into a full lotus flower. Substances like MDMA and ketamine, MDMA is also commonly known as ecstasy. What’s important to emphasize is ecstasy is normally a press pill with other things.

Pure MDMA is a white powder that’s being used in clinical trials, to treat PTSD. Ketamine is a disassociative that also has psychedelic-like qualities and is currently legal for use and is quite effective at treating depression and anxiety. MDMA and ketamine are both softer. They’re usually good openers. They’re good for those who are brand new to this. What they often help is they allow us to till the soil. Think of tilling the soil as doing shadow work, as healing trauma, as getting back to baseline.

That way, you’re not trying to plant a new seed in dirt that is toxic or parched or not resourced enough. Starting with something like MDMA and ketamine. What MDMA does is beautiful. It opens up the heart, it’s an empathogen, significantly opens up the heart. What it also does neurobiologically is it dampens the response of the amygdala. The amygdala is an almond-shaped thing in our brain somewhere deeply buried, and it’s one of the oldest parts of our brain. It’s that lizard brain.

What happens with people who are traumatized or have been traumatized is, when there’s a really traumatic experience that they went through, it’s often too overwhelming for the nervous system to actually fully process and be able to communicate. Yet, the only way to integrate it is to have a catharsis. What MDMA does is it opens up that spaciousness to talk about very traumatic experiences, but not become overwhelmed by them because the fear response of the amygdala has dampened, which allows us to process trauma.

That’s the soil that’s being tilled. That’s the early trauma work. Once that early trauma work has been done, then when we’re looking to plant the new seed of self, that’s where LSD or psilocybin is really great or even something like mescaline, because LSD and psilocybin both induce this, what we talked about earlier, a classic mystical experience, complete ego death, complete ego dissolution.

Oftentimes, when people come out of that, just like you mentioned, in some ways, you’re a totally new person. You have this entirely new path that you want to start to go down. That LSD or psilocybin is that seed that’s being planted as that new seed of self, and they tend to be a little bit softer to navigate than, let’s say, ayahuasca or 5-MeO-DMT, which is why, for those who are coming into this, they’re more commonly used in that way.

Now, a key distinction between LSD and psilocybin, LSD is more dopaminergic. There’s more dopamine with LSD, so it tends to be better for more extroverted things for being outside. It’s also 12 hours long. It’s incredibly long. Psilocybin is six hours long. It’s more serotonergic, more tied to contentment, presence, and it’s becoming quickly legal and accessible. Oregon now has legal psilocybin. Colorado just legalized psilocybin. Psilocybin is also legal in the Netherlands, Jamaica, these other places. It’s just more accessible than LSD.

Then once that new seed of self is planted, that’s where integration comes in. Think of the sun and the water as integration. Those are the lifestyle practices, maybe even something like microdosing that’s helping to continue to nourish that new sense of self, that new seed, so it doesn’t fall back into old patterns and old behaviors that aren’t serving them. That’s meditation, that’s yoga, that’s breath work, that’s diet, exercise, sleep, all of these lifestyle practices that help us to feel more energized, to feel more present, to feel more resourced, are the ones that we’re consistently using.

Just to land this, that period could last for five years, six years, seven years. I think one key assumption to break or just poke is that this doesn’t have to be instant and immediate, that working with psychedelics can be significant, but it’s still the path of a new journey, in many ways. You went in the deep end right away with 5-MeO. I started with LSD, psilocybin. I didn’t do 5 until about a year ago, 12 years into my overall psychedelic journey.

That is that lotus flower that’s blossoming, then. How might ayahuasca, huachuma, 5-MeO-DMT, that final transcendent “oh” experience that allows that individual, that sense of self to fully blossom. Ayahuasca tends to be incredibly intense. It’s much more shamanic. There’s a lot of purging that can come from it. As you experience with 5-MeO, 5-MeO is white light, total godhead. It is incredibly intense. You’re smoking a toad venom. Huachuma as well because it’s a plant medicine, has more lineage, it can act as that. What’s key within all of this is, is then thinking of psychedelics as a skill that we can cultivate. Those who are listening to this, who might be brand new, if you’re thinking about doing this, you may feel a little intimidated. You may feel a little  uncertain, you may feel a little bit like, “Where do I start? Who do I work with? Where do I go?” Which is why I’ve built third wave to help that process.

I think what is key is just to start low and go slow and to wade in, to wade into a place that feels comfortable. It’s why I think microdosing is so key culturally, so that when people hear about psychedelics, they don’t feel necessarily obligated to, “Oh my gosh, I have to do 5 grams of mushrooms, or I’m not doing it right.” There are significant benefits from just starting at these low doses with microdoses, and slowly becoming more familiar with that altered state before you totally dissolve your sense of self and kill your ego.

The difference between micro- and macro-dosing

Ari: Well said. I love that analogy. That’s a great way of explaining it. Let’s talk microdosing versus macrodosing. What are some of the key distinctions there? Maybe this will be treated as something separately or integrated into your answer, but talk to me about also people dealing with specific mental health issues, symptoms that they’re trying to resolve, let’s say depression, anxiety, PTSD, things like that, versus the already well looking to optimize, let’s say, be more creative, have a better mood, be more loving in their relationships and so on.

Paul: Better communicators, better leaders, more vision, all those sorts of things. All of this is on a continuum. Any bifurcation is a losery. It’s superficial. We all exist on this continuum in many ways, which I think is the beautiful and empowering thing about psychedelics is they allow us to see that top of the mountain as we were on that journey. Microdosing came on the scene about 10 years ago in terms of modern culture. There was a book written called The Psychedelic Explorers Guide, and a chapter dedicated to Microdosing. It talked about just these anecdotes of people working with low doses of psychedelics a couple times a week over a five to six to seven week time period.

This is a totally novel way of approaching working with psychedelics, because for the most part, even historically with indigenous groups, there are some indigenous groups that microdose and take low doses but, by and large, most are working with these to have this classic spiritual experience. To do something then two to three times a week for a period of, let’s say, a minimum of month is much different than just doing one high dose experience and just seeing what unfurls from that, after a month, two months, three months.

Microdosing came on the scene as not so much, “Oh, it’s just taking a low dose of a psychedelic,” but more so that it’s a protocol that’s committed to, with an understanding of this is really to observe how your baseline is changing from day 1 to day 30, or day 1 to day 60.

The parallel that I often give is with meditation. When we start meditating, we don’t just sit down in the cushion, day one, expect to be transformed. What we look at is, “Okay, if I meditate every day for 30 days, then I can start to see some tangible impact and benefit from that commitment.” I’m less reactive, I’m more present, there’s less rumination, I’m a little kinder, a little softer, et cetera.

That’s the key with microdosing is to microdose, let’s say, the typical protocol is two to three times a week, to have at least a day off in between microdoses. To do it for a minimum of a month, to start with, and to really observe how is my mood changing? How is my energy changing? How is my capacity to move changing? What about the dietary choices that I’m making? How are those shifting and changing? How’s rumination? Am I less ruminative? Am I happier?

Just having the chance to observe and notice that allows for an understanding of how microdosing could be beneficial. Again, what this comes back to is the skill, which is why this book that I wrote, Mastering Microdosing is all about, we want to empower you with the capacity to do this on your own. This initial protocol that I’m talking about is the scaffolding, but ultimately it’s up to you to build that new sense of self around that scaffolding and have a clear, intuitive understanding of how this might be useful. The key with microdosing for, let’s say, more clinical indications is I think we’ll find that it’s very effective for depression.

It’s very helpful as euphoria. I think microdoses of psychedelics will replace traditional psychiatric medications like Prozac and Zoloft for depression within the next 10 years. It can be helpful for anxiety, although I’m not totally convinced on that, and it can also be helpful for addiction. Now, what is key within all of this is the same point that I’ve made throughout this podcast is microdosing is not a magic pill, and so I think it’s key not to have a psychological dependency.

Again, psychedelics are not addictive. There will be no physiological dependency with this whatsoever with microdosing, but the psychological dependency of “The only way I can feel better is if I’m taking this thing,” that may be true for a certain period of time, but there’s also a necessity to leverage that window of neuroplasticity with microdosing to weave in new patterns, new behaviors, new practices.

This is why I think it’s so fundamentally important to have a coach or a guide or a therapist who’s there with you if you really want to get the most out of working with psychedelics and microdosing. Now, if we’re looking at the betterment of well people, or if we’re looking at not now how do I get back to baseline, but how do I go from baseline to the full capacity that I know is possible in my life, there’s a few things that are ease within that.

One is creativity. I mentioned BDNF, Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor. Even at doses as low as 6 micrograms of LSD– the typical microdose of LSD is about 10 micrograms. Even at doses as low as as 6 micrograms, there’s an increase in BDNF. Most of us are, in some ways, needing to elevate and enhance creativity, because being able to think outside the box, being innovative, looking at how new ideas are coming together, this is key as whether you’re an entrepreneur, whether you’re a coach, whether you’re a product engineer, whatever it is, it’s really helpful to come up with new and inspiring ways to look at reality. I think, first of all, creativity.

Second of all is leadership. What I’ve found and what people have found again and again with and when working with microdosing is there’s just a capacity to be, especially for those who are a little bit more type A, a little bit more robotic, a little bit, which I speak for myself in that way, a little bit more like direct into the point. From a leadership perspective, psychedelics and microdosing helps with communication.

It can help with a softening, it can help with listening better, empathy, compassion. A deep being with rather than just go all the time. Then, of course, then also relates not only to leadership, but relationships. People will often talk about how, with their intimate relationships, microdosing is phenomenal for sex, it’s phenomenal for intimacy, it’s phenomenal for just slightly elevating our way of being when we’re in partnership and in relationship, and can really help, I think as well to talk about maybe difficult things that otherwise we wouldn’t normally be able to talk about.

Microdosing or low dosing can also help to bring up some of those things as well. I know we’re running short in time, so I want to be mindful of that. I think the final thing to land is, whether it’s for healing or whether it’s for transformation, whether it’s to get back to baseline or whether it’s to to elevate what our baseline is, the most important part to take away from this podcast from working with psychedelics is that, at the end of the day, it’s up to you.

At the end of the day, we each have full responsibility for our health and for our wellbeing and what psychedelics do is they create an opening and a capacity to confront life, not disassociate, not disconnect, but really just objectively go, this is where I’m at and this is what needs to change to make that happen. There’s an incredible detachment that comes from that. We’re not tied to a personality or an ego anymore, but we’re really listening to what it is that wants to move through and then we can navigate life a lot more fluidity as a result of that.

Paul’s take on the future of mental health

Ari: Beautifully said. Tell me what you think is the future of mental health, mental health treatment, and tell me also about your coaching and certification and online programs that you offer, that you help, that you are trying to help facilitate that vision.

Paul: The future of mental health has to go beyond the mental. It has to have a deep recognition that, as beings, we are not just in our brains, but that we are these organisms and that most of what happens is actually below the neck. I think what psychedelics are helping to do is open up an awareness of the importance of somatics, the importance of full body, and to realize that there’s a deep connection between what happens in our brain and what happens in our gut, what happens in our brain and what happens in our heart. That, I think has stopped, number one. I think, beyond that, that is, as I alluded to before, how can mental health, how can healthcare, in general, just become a lot more personalized, and how can it focus, especiallyhere in the United States, how can it be a lot more human-centric rather than product-centric? Focusing on the being with, focusing on the community, focusing on the connection.

I think a lot of the challenges and issues that we are confronted with within our own health and physiology is, again, the sense of disconnection, the sense of isolation, the sense of not being in community, the sense of not being in nature. How can we orient more towards things that bring full vitality? In terms of how that will pan out then, MDMA will be approved for PTSD next year through clinical trials. It’s just completed phase three, they’re now doing the final stuff. Psilocybin will be approved for treatment-resistant depression and major depressive disorder by 2024, 2025.

As I mentioned earlier, Colorado has legalized psilocybin. Oregon now has fully legal psilocybin. California. There are a number of other states that are looking at that. I think, very rapidly, most of the Western world will have legal access to psychedelics within the next 10 years, all things considered. In terms of the approach that we’re taking and the programs and training, my flag, I’ve always rooted in non-clinical, non-medical use of psychedelics.

How can psychedelics help us to go from baseline to self-actualization or fullest capacity of who we are as a human? The training program that we have out is specifically for executive coaches, performance coaches, wellness coaches, life coaches. We have some clinicians as well who enroll in it. There is some work, trauma-informed work that we talk about in terms of how psychedelics can help to heal these clinical conditions.

By and large, we’re looking at how do we, as practitioners and coaches, how do we master the skill of psychedelics. In that inner transformation as a practitioner and a coach, how then do we show up for our clients with a lot more depth, a lot more capacity and ability to hold the complexity of everything that they are as a human. Right now, it’s a six-month program. It will be elongated and there’s most 40 people in a cohort.

That’s the maximum. We have a retreat as part of it, or an intensive in Costa Rica, a six-day intensive where we work with medicine ourselves. Then we have both a theoretical and practicum too. Again, the focus is, if you’re looking at not psychedelics to heal clinical conditions, but if you’re really looking at, “If I’m an executive coach, how could this help the leaders that I’m supporting? If I’m a performance coach, how could this help the professional athletes, et cetera?”

That’s the core one. It’s called our Coaching Certification Program. What I’m happy to do is, if there are any listeners on this, we’ll have a discount code that we roll out. Let’s just say Third Wave will be the discount code. If you’re interested in enrolling in that training program, there will be a $500 discount for anyone who wants to enroll on that. We’ll make sure to include that in the show notes as well.

Ari: Awesome. Thank you so much. I’ll make sure to include that in the show notes as well on my end, ThirdWave, we’ll put this episode, all one word, ThirdWave, and we’ll spell it both directions with the number three and spelled out just so there’s no confusion.

Paul: Just in case. Then the final thing, Ari, before we wrap up is Mastering Microdosing is the book that I just published. It’s on Amazon. It’s all about, again, how do we master the skill of microdosing, whether for clinical or non-clinical. That’s Kindle, paperback, and hard cover that can be found on Amazon as well.

Ari: Awesome. I’m going to go grab a copy of that myself right now. I didn’t know that you published that book. I’ve been reading all these articles on your site and I had no idea that you had a book. When did that come out?

Paul: I got a book. Came out two months ago.

Ari: Oh, okay. Awesome.

Paul: Mid-November, and I’m happy to– I would love for you to get it and let me know your thoughts and we’ll have to do either another podcast or just next time we both are in the same place, a proper hangout and maybe even a microdose.

Ari: Absolutely. I suspect there’s plenty more for us to talk about and we’ll, I’m sure, do another podcast at some point. Paul, this has been awesome. Your wealth of knowledge. Thank you for being such a good communicator and bringing such clarity to a topic that is very difficult to do. I really appreciate it, and this was an absolute joy. I look forward to our next conversation.

Show Notes

A new approach to drugs (05:55)
The Third Wave (10:42)
The biggest benefits of psychedelics (16:58)
How psychedelics affect the human body (28:28)
The differences between the most common psychedelics (34:00)
The difference between micro- and macro-dosing (40:40)
Paul’s take on the future of mental health (48:48)


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Link to article in the Economist

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