How to Get Started with Plant Medicine Therapy
I’m one year into my plant medicine journey.
I’ve done 6 MDMA therapy sessions, and 3 Psilocybin therapy sessions. I wrote about my first two MDMA sessions here (that article got a lot of attention).
I’m still a beginner. I’m in no position to tell anyone what to do in their life.
But I am willing to share what I’ve learned on my journey, publicly, and as a result, I get a lot of questions from people who want to begin their plant medicine journey. The most common question I get is:
“Where do I start? How do I even think about this?”
Many people start by doing one of two things:
1. They begin almost randomly, using whatever substance they can get ahold of, or,
2. They get overwhelmed by the amount of information and lack of reliable, clear sources — so they do nothing.
Neither of those approaches is best. I am lucky enough to have access to several experienced and wise plant medicine guides, and they helped me devise a framework for how I would take my journey.
I’m going to outline the framework I learned from them. It is NOT the only framework. It’s maybe not even be the best, but it’s the one I am currently using.
I call it “The Lotus Flower Plan.”
The Lotus Flower Plan
I got this name from a story told to me by Anne Other (one of my mentors on my plant medicine journey, who wrote the book Trust, Surrender, Receive).
After my first MDMA session with her, I had a LOT of questions about what to do next. Anne patiently helped me come up with my plan by telling me a story:
Anne “Tucker think about your plant medicine journey like you are growing a lotus flower. Could you start your lotus with the flower?”
Tucker “No of course not.”
Anne “Where would you start?”
Tucker “You start with the seed pod I guess.”
Anne “No. You must start with the dirt. For a lotus flower to grow, it has to have a very specific type of dirt, arranged in the proper way. Then you plant the seed pod. I think of MDMA as ‘getting the dirt right.’
“Starting with MDMA works well because it is a very specific medicine that does one thing: it helps you process trauma. That’s all it does. And usually the trauma is the hardest stuff to process. That’s the physical violence, the sexual violence, the social violence, the loneliness, the things your parents did, whether consciously or unconsciously, the things your friends did, the things that happened to you, the things you’ve done to yourself. All the traumas you have in your life keep you stuck where you are.
“Almost all of us have deep seated and unresolved traumas, and until we bring them up and process them, it’s very hard to do any other work.”
Tucker “So basically, start with MDMA because it helps you deal with your shit? Makes sense. OK, what’s next after MDMA?”
Anne “Well, with a lotus flower, once the dirt is ready and bulb planted putting down roots, what comes next?”
Tucker “The stem?”
Anne “Exactly. In this metaphor, the stem would be Psilocybin. Or in some cases, LSD. Whereas MDMA is a scalpel used for only one purpose, Psilocybin and LSD tend to be ‘multi-tools.’
“They do a lot of things. They can absolutely help with trauma. They expand your mind. They help you see other dimensions or other angles on reality. In a lot of ways they, they reset your mind (ed note: the research data is showing is that psilocybin quite literally does this). They help your brain cut old connections that no longer serve you, and enable you to build new ones that do.
“These medicines can be approached gently and increased slowly so the user can become accustomed to them, and do their work at a comfortable speed. They tend to be the workhorse medicines of the psychedelics.”
Tucker “Makes sense. What is the flower then? Ayahuasca?”
Anne “It could be Ayahuasca. Or DMT. Or Bufo (5-MeO-DMT). Or possibly even large doses of Psilocybin or LSD.”
Tucker “The medicine doesn’t matter at the flower stage? I’m confused.”
Anne “The specific medicine is less important than the idea that the flower is where you fully explore your consciousness and dive deep into what intense psychedelic exploration can show you. The flower is the full expression of your consciousness. It comes last, after you’ve laid the foundation with your “dirt work” and “stem work.” Does that make sense?
Tucker “Yes, totally. First you deal with your shit, then you get your mind right, then you go see God?”
Anne “That’s a funny way to put it, but yes, that’s basically correct. Do you understand?”
Tucker “Yeah I get it. I mean, sort of. Nothing in the plant medicine world makes sense to me, but this makes as much sense as anything else.”
Anne ”And the metaphor also includes something very important — the sun. What do you think the sun is in this metaphor?”
Tucker “The soul? The mind?”
Anne “No, but close: integration therapy. Just as the sun provides the on-going fuel for the lotus flower to blossom, integration therapy provides the fuel for someone to take the realizations and visions they get from plant medicine work and integrate them into their lives. At all stages the lotus flower needs the sun, just like proper integration therapy before and after plant medicine work is necessary for human consciousness to grow.”
Tucker “That’s some profound shit! So I should go in that order — MDMA, mushrooms, ayahuasca, all while getting the proper integration therapy?”
Anne “In my experience, that’s the best way to approach the work, yes. And I must emphasize doing the right integration work the whole time, with each medicine.”
Tucker “This integration thing makes total sense, actually. Is this why I know people who have done like, 20 ayahuasca journeys, but are still totally fucked up? They started at ayahuasca, and they don’t do any other work or do any integration?”
Anne “Well…I don’t know those people, but we have a name for when you start with the flower and never do the “dirt work” or “stem work” — we call it “spiritual bypass.” When you have a profound experience with something like ayahuasca, without the foundational work or the integration, it’s very easy to think you’ve made progress when you really have not. This is ‘bypassing’ the hard work, and mistaking a profound but fleeting experience with actually facing your shadows and doing the work.”
Tucker “You just described like, 10 different people I know. They will not shut the fuck up about ayahuasca and how amazing it is, but their lives are still totally screwed up in all ways. It confused the hell out of me. It’s why I was so reluctant to do medicine work at first — those people were the ones I was listening to, and I did NOT want to be like them.”
Anne “I think it was Chögyam Trungpa who said, ‘Ego is constantly attempting to acquire and apply the teachings of spirituality for its own benefit.’ We see this quite often with people in their medicine journeys. The hardest work is the dirt work and the stem work, and the most profound and rewarding work is usually the flower. It is easy to start at the flower, and skip the other parts, but you cannot grow a lotus that way.”
Tucker “Just so I am very clear — when you say ‘integration therapy’ what exactly do you mean?”
Anne “There is no one specific meaning. For most people, talk therapy is the best integration they can do. For others, yoga and meditation. For others, group therapy. For some, myofascial release is part of it. There are even integration coaches. It depends on the person, but the point is, they’re doing something besides just the medicine. You must do something to help understand what the medicine brings up, and how it integrates into your life. The medicine by itself only shows you things or helps you feel things. You must still understand what these things are, what they mean, and how they fit into your life. Integration is the core of the work.”
Tucker “What about me? Before all of this, I’ve done 4 years of psychoanalysis, and another 2 years of other forms of talk therapy. I have a really good understanding of my issues and my problems. Is it possible to, in effect, do your integration before you do your medicine work? Or to do it yourself?”
Anne “Well, you can do some of it of course. But not all. Based on our prior conversations, it seems you have a very good understanding of what your emotional issues are. What you don’t seem to have is a lot of experience in feeling those emotions. That is where MDMA and psilocybin will help you greatly.”
Tucker “Yeah, it’s the map vs. the territory thing.”
Anne “I don’t know that metaphor.”
Tucker “It’s a military saying. What it means is that the map of a territory is not the actual territory itself. The map can help you understand the territory, but you can’t walk the map, you can only walk the actual territory. As long as you know that the map is only a map, then you’re fine, but when you mistake the map for the territory, you get screwed.
“In this case, therapy helped me get the map to my emotions. But I didn’t feel them much in therapy. MDMA is helping me feel my emotions — which would be walking the territory. So I need to use integration to help me update my map, as I walk the territory.”
Tucker “Is this why so many people who do plant medicine don’t really improve their lives much — they aren’t doing any integration work?”
Anne “I see that a lot. If someone is doing psychedelics and not integrating, then they are really just doing drugs. They might be having a profound experience, but it is not medicine work without integration. That’s why I do not personally work with someone who does not have an integration practice prior to coming to me.”
TL;DR: The Lotus Flower Plan Summary
This is the Lotus Flower plan that I am using, recommended to me by Anne Other and several other trusted and experienced guides:
MDMA first (The Dirt)
Psilocybin next (The Stem)
Ayahuasca after (The Flower)
Integration Therapy The Whole Time (The Sun)
How many sessions of each? That’s impossible to answer in a general sense. I know people who only needed one MDMA session. I know others who needed 10. Totally depends on the individual.
My medicine schedule for my first year:
Sept, 2018: MDMA therapy session #1
Oct, 2018: MDMA therapy session #2
Dec, 2018: MDMA therapy session #3
Feb, 2019: MDMA therapy session #4
Apr, 2019: MDMA therapy session #5
Apr, 2019: Mushroom therapy session #1
Jun, 2019: MDMA therapy session #6 (I went back to MDMA because I felt like I had more trauma to get through. I was right, but it was very little. I could have skipped this session and been fine)
Jun, 2019: Mushroom therapy Session #2
Jul, 2019: Mushroom therapy session #3
This treatment schedule for my first year is very aggressive (9 sessions). I’m a pretty aggressive person, and because I had a strong therapeutic background, and a lot of trauma to work through, I decided to be aggressive in my treatment schedule.
It may not have been the best choice. One of my medicine mentors recommended a slower path, maybe 5-6 total sessions. Two others thought my path, given my background and experience, was fine, as long as I was just as aggressive with integration (which I tried to be).
[My guides tend to recommend no more than 4 MDMA sessions in a year for a standard beginner with a standard integration practice. And 4–8 Psilocybin sessions is usually the max in a year recommended for most beginners, depending on dosages. But again, both recommendations vary widely by guide and by person].
I can’t tell you if it was the “best” choice or not, but it has worked out well for me.
For the future, my basic plan is to stick with Psilocybin for now, and do at least 2–3 more sessions over the next 4–6 months.
From there I will get with my guides, and see where I am. I may do more Psilocybin, I may experiment with LSD, or I may move up to a “flower” medicine. It all depends on how much “stem” work I get done, and where I am with my integration.
My mentors tell me that, if you really listen to the medicines, they tend to “tell you” when they’re done with you. When it’s time to move on.
I know this sounds kooky. It sounded insane to me as well.
But then I had my 6th MDMA session, and the medicine very clearly told me I was done (at least for the time being). It was the weirdest thing, I can’t describe it any other way than it literally told me I was done, and it was time to move on.
I’m writing about this not to tell you what to do, and not even to claim I know anything. I’m just sharing my experience, in the hope it can help you create a good experience for yourself. I see a lot of people becoming interested in medicine work now, and there’s not much clear, direct guidance on how to approach it.
What’s Next For Writing About Plant Medicine
I’m going to write a piece about my experiences with Psilocybin therapy, and I will continue to write up my thoughts on other issues as people ask me questions that seem important to answer.
Also, I will try to create a list of “mentors” who are willing to speak to people and help them through, at a minimum, thinking about plant medicines. People I’ve talked to and trust who I feel can help people learn where to start.
No promises here, this stuff is rapidly making progress to becoming legal, but it is NOT legal yet. I am willing to talk about this publicly, but not many other people are. If I can find people who are very experienced that will talk to people about it, I will promote them.
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