The ‘psychedelic ego’ refers to an ego that is based on – or inflated by – psychedelics. This may seem counterintuitive since psychedelics can lead to the diminishment or complete dissolution of the ego (known as ‘ego death’). However, the ego does not disappear forever as a result of a psychedelic experience. You can experience egolessness and perhaps glean some wisdom from that state – yet the ego will come together again as you gain sobriety.
Psychedelic experiences can be harnessed in an ego-driven way, even if ego-based boundaries dissolve during such experiences. Similarly, spirituality, which often extols the egoless state, can become material for the ego. The result is a ‘spiritualised ego’, where you adopt spiritual trappings in order to elevate yourself. The way you dress, speak, think, behave, and engage with the world becomes about reinforcing a spiritual identity. This creates more separateness and can lead to self-indulgence, self-obsession, narcissism, judgemental attitudes, and avoidance (known as ‘spiritual bypassing’).
There are many parallels between the spiritual ego and the psychedelic ego. For example, someone may experience transformative or healing moments of transcendence during a meditation retreat – or during a psychedelic experience – and then let this feed a superiority complex about how they’re more enlightened or woke than people who haven’t had such experiences.
People who use psychedelics may engage in a kind of ego-based competitiveness about dosages and intensity of experiences, relishing in how these experiences single you out as brave or a true psychonaut. The psychedelic ego is also apparent in the form of jealousy. When you’re listening to someone’s story about an incredible, life-changing psychedelic experience he or she had, you may immediately react with strong feelings of bitter jealousy. When all you can think about is how you wish you had this mystical experience, and struggle to genuinely be happy for someone else’s, the psychedelic ego is at play.
The ego is always hungry, consuming, dissatisfied, and eager to rise above others. The psychedelic ego can manifest as a craving for the ‘ultimate’ psychedelic experience. If you can have the most mind-blowing visuals and epiphanies, then you can boast about it and feel a sense of satisfaction in impressing others or hoarding such experiences. Much like awe-inspiring travel experiences, psychedelics can foster a kind of ‘experiential materialism’. This refers to the tendency to collect and show off your beautiful experiences as a way to feel secure and raise your status. There are other signs that may indicate a psychedelic ego. These include:
- Attaching great importance to how many experiences you’ve got under your belt, how many types of psychedelics you’ve tried, or what your highest dosage has been
- The belief that trying some substances (e.g. powerful ones like DMT and ayahuasca) and in certain contexts (e.g. traditional ceremonies in the jungle) put you on top of some ‘psychonaut hierarchy’
- Chasing and desiring certain aspects of the psychedelic experience (e.g. ego death, rebirth, meeting God, a feeling of oneness, otherworldly experiences, spiritual revelations, visions, life lessons, ecstasy, serenity, awe, and so on and so forth) in an ego-based way. You may come to believe you can only be content once you’ve finally tasted the full cornucopia of psychedelia and that your level of experience indicates some kind of ‘psychedelic success’.
- Psychedelic one-upping. This is when you try to emphasise how much deeper, richer, or more spiritual your psychedelic experiences are compared to someone else’s.
- The belief that everyone has to try psychedelics or have the same experiences you’ve had in order to ‘get on your level’. You become a psychedelic proselytizer. You may judge non-psychedelic users as closed-minded, unenlightened, or wimpish.
These attitudes aren’t necessarily intentional. They are simply the old, habitual patterns of the ego but which feature psychedelics as fresh material. These ego-boosting games involve experiences that, in an ideal scenario, should make us less self-obsessed, not more. But we’re human, after all. The intractable ego will use anything to prop itself up, including, perhaps, its own death during a psychedelic experience.
Dethroning the ego depends on – first of all – gaining awareness of this psychedelic ego. Secondly, it’s crucial to view psychedelic experiences in the context of genuine self-development. This means putting in the work and effort that is necessary to integrate these experiences, with the intention of becoming more compassionate and connected, not more separate and all high and mighty.
The psychedelic ego may actually be a blessing in disguise, as it presents a further obstacle in the path of self-development. And it is these sorts of challenges that add meaning and purpose to a spiritual life. The intrusion of the ego into the world of psychedelics has been disregarded. It’s time to pay more attention to it. After all, grappling with the psychedelic ego in a forthright manner can be extremely fruitful – for both you as an individual and others who you interact with.