Recognising the Psychedelic Ego

psychedelic ego

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.


  1. Bill blackheart
    November 15, 2018 / 4:34 am

    My ego says that your ego is judging other egos. You’re inflating your ego by pretending to know what you’re talking about. Is this article meant to be some sort of guidance for “psychonauts”? Or is it just another notch on your belt, another success for your ego? I’m sure it’s not intentional, just an old habitual pattern of thinking and behavior. But, youre human… after all.

    • Sam Woolfe
      November 15, 2018 / 10:15 am

      I see what you did there 🙂 Of course, my own ego is something I should consider in writing about this. I hope I have not appeared hypocritical or talking from a point of ego, but that could certainly be at play. My aim, however, was to introduce a valid concept that is being unaddressed and to speak from personal experience. This ‘psychedelic ego’ is something I’ve noticed in myself – I’m not just trying to say it’s a problem with others and not me. You may find this recent article from Vice quite interesting, as it touches on this issue:

      • M@
        December 6, 2018 / 8:55 am

        You’ve presented quite the paradox here and one that was a completely new way (to me anyway) of thinking and dealing with after experience Integration. Thank you!

  2. Tim
    November 15, 2018 / 10:14 pm

    My ego is more dead than your ego.

  3. prophetec
    December 31, 2018 / 4:26 am

    Love it… great article, great perspective. I’ve really enjoyed the few articles I’ve read so far, but loving all of it. Thank you for sharing your thoughts brother!

  4. Mike Logghe
    May 23, 2019 / 10:20 pm

    I’ve seen mentioned in the literature the phenomenon of “the Jesus syndrome.” For some young men typically around 30 years of age to “see the Light” and then proceed to proselytize their insights. Like you point out, just another step on the Path to work through. Raised Roman Catholic I’ve since been quite wary of “priestcraft,” individuals with licenses whether given from higher up or self credentialed to sermonize or, maybe worse, shamanize. Of course it can occur at all ages and orientations. One view in the psychedelic communities is that the Word is half the Medicine and half the Sangha. This tends to keep the lid on wannabe priests. Another perspective I like is that of pilgrimage versus being in the church. The church has priests in charge whereas on pilgrimage as in Chaucer everyone is just another individual on the path.

  5. Eddie
    August 5, 2019 / 1:49 pm

    Really liked this – a very succinct account of something I’ve observed more than a few times (in myself as well as others); ‘the paradox of ego dissolution!’ To my mind, it’s a similar phenomenon that at least partly motivates the zen aphorism, ‘if you meet the Buddha on the road – kill him!’ Very easy for the ego to shift from thinking the unusual experiences are special, to I, who have experienced them, am thereby special.

    My admittedly underpowered observational sample suggests that this mindset seems to co-vary with how much of the total ‘work to be done’ on the spiritual path someone believes can be done simply through psychedelics. Special experiences, induced by meditation or ayahuasca, no doubt have their role to play, but there’s so much work to be done in the boring, the ordinary.

    If you’ve not come across it yet, you might like ‘Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism’ by Chögyam Trungpa, which is all about ego’s sneaky ability to turn any spiritual practice to its own ends.

    • Sam Woolfe
      August 5, 2019 / 2:41 pm

      Thanks for your comment, Eddie – the feedback is much appreciated. I also couldn’t agree more. I guess it’s not very ego-boosting to talk about the ordinary, gradual work you do to integrate psychedelic experiences. It’s much easier to feel you’re enlightened and show off about having had an intense, ego-dissolving experience (which isn’t to take away from the value of such an experience – as it can have long-term benefits even if you don’t put a lot of conscious effort into integrating it).

      I have heard about ‘Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism’ and read some snippets of it – I think it was mentioned in some articles I read on the spiritualised ego. This is a topic I also find really interesting.

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