After her own personal experiences with psychedelics, 34-year old Anya Oleksiuk has embarked on a mammoth film project to bring the good news about psychedelics.
Here in the West while views are changing, psychedelic's association with those of a deviant persuasion are hard to shake. That perception evidently in part fueled by a mass media in all its forms addicted to sensationalism. The unsaid rhetoric pushed by mass media- LSD/psychedelics are for those unwilling to conform to societal norms because at their core they are dysfunctional members of society-or something to that effect.
There is a tendency in the West (but not always) to vilify anything that cannot be understood or indeed does not fit into the West's sphere of knowledge. Psychedelics consequently have until more recently fallen into the category of something that is poorly understood. Ironically in ‘developing' or ‘backward' countries psychedelics (in more natural forms) are seemingly better understood. Importantly psychedelic's use in these countries is culturally bound and therefore the acceptance of psychedelics is perhaps understandable.
In Anya Oleksiuk's film, The Psychedelic Renaissance (which is still in the making), she demystifies and de-stigmatizes psychedelics while introducing us to protagonists from yesteryear and now who are promoting psychedelics. In that process we learn that far from a mere drug for spotty teenagers and long-haired travelers intent on some nirvana like experiences psychedelics has bonafide practical uses in the field of medicine. Anya Oleksiuk's film urges us to plunge into the sub-culture of the psychonauts.
Do you have your own experiences with LSD/psychedelics that you can elaborate on?
I have had many experiences with LSD by now Two years of healing and two years of further exploration. I can definitely say that this is my spirit molecule. It has assisted me loyally through my healing, later it kept opening my consciousness and it showed me exact the instructions on how to align with my right path. Until today it gives me lessons on how to become a better version of me – calmer, more loving and kind. The most beautiful experience on LSD, each time, is ego death, when you are one with everything… when you become one with god/universe/system, whatever you want to call it. If you surrender to this experience without fear, you can see that everything is possible and from this moment real healing can occur.
Talk to us about a young Anya and how family life perhaps set you on a path into film?
My dad was a photographer and my mum was a painter. I grew up surrounded by art and was always encouraged by my parents to express myself creatively. At age of six I developed an obsession with music videos, which then led me to an interest in visual storytelling. At age of 14 I borrowed a simple video camera from my friend Ewa and, together with my other mate Weronika, we made a documentary about life in our city Gdynia. After secondary school I went against my calling and decided to study International Relations at a prestigious Naval Academy but I soon figured out that this was not my path and moved to London to pursue education and career in arts and media.
If we heal the society we can heal the planet.
And let's talk psychedelics first explain your interest in it and your subsequent wish to create a documentary?
I tried LSD for the first time in my life when I was 18. It was a very low dose but I feel it helped me as a person. Since then I have used LSD and magic mushrooms recreationally on a few more occasions but never made a big deal out of those substances. I reminded myself about them years later, a few months after I was diagnosed with depression.
My intuition led me to give LSD another go and I took 250 micrograms with my friend. As soon as the medicine kicked in, I felt like I am being cleansed from my depression. I looked at my arms and they looked like an aquarium – my skin made of glass and water flowing behind it. I looked at the world around me and everything looked like an impressionistic painting, almost like Vincent Van Gogh's works. Soon, time started slowing down and speeding up and the whole reality changed into pure information – almost like a code in which all information is accessible.
For sure. Studies show that LSD can be helpful in the treatment of depression.
Exactly-psychedelics such as MDMA, Psilocybin, LSD, Ayahuasca and Iboga, are all helpful in treatment of many mental health issues, including; depression, addictions and PTSD. Many study participants, as well as independent researchers have self-treated themselves with psychedelics and in the film we ask how each substance helps. In the film we also speak to all the leading researchers around the world about this subject.
Your experience was hugely spiritual and life affirming.
It was. From there I understood that I can alter my own reality and heal my mental state on my own. I spent the next 2 years on healing: yoga, meditation, practiced gratitude and I went through a psychedelic ceremony every 2-3 months. Now I have been feeling completely healed for a while. I do not suffer with depression or social anxiety and I am genuinely really happy.
Humphrey Osmond cites LSD as a tool to awaken-do we need that now more than ever?
This is a critical TIME when our planet will not be able to sustain us very soon if we don't change the way we live. We have seen centuries of human greed resulting in wars and destruction to the environment. After experiencing two World Wars we are still full of hate to each other and we allow for more atrocities to happen all the time. It feels like there is less and less time to save this planet and our global society before any psychopathic politicians start a nuclear war over a twitter post.
Let me quote Julian Vayne who recently said to me that we couldn't let this story end like this. If we heal individuals we can heal the society. If we heal the society we can heal the planet. And we know that psychedelics, including LSD are a strong catalyst for healing and consciousness expansion. So it just seems that this is exactly what we need right now. Many people would argue, that you can get the same results with meditation or yoga practice. Yes, that is true. However, it would take years and years of practice and I don't think we have that long.
Like so many drugs, psychedelics have received negative press but why are its benefits being brought to light now?
The psychedelics started getting more acknowledgements recently thanks to all the recent studies. MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association For Psychedelic Studies), The Beckley Foundation, Imperial College are just a few organizations currently engaged in psychedelic research. The results are fascinating. People who suffered depression or addiction for years, and were resistant to all treatment, get better after just one session with the substance followed by a few sessions of therapy without the substance. Those substances allow the patient to achieve fast results as opposed to spending long years and a lot of money on psychotherapy. I suggest checking out more info on MAPS/The Beckley Foundation websites and I recommend reading Ben Sessa's book The Psychedelic Renaissance (2012).
Talk more about your documentary The Psychedelic Renaissance. Break down the aims of the documentary?
The documentary sets out to explain the nature of the psychedelic experience and correct common misconceptions about those substances. We want to break the negative stigma surrounding all psychedelics. To normalize psychedelic use by exposing the scale of our movement. It's also about shining a light on the modern cutting-edge psychedelic research and convince the public that medicine can benefit greatly from the use of psychedelics. I would love to see those substances being used in psychotherapy in the nearest future. I also wanted to inspire and inform others like me, who might be resistant to traditional treatments. Hopefully they will open their mind to psychedelics.
We want to make a clear call for their responsible therapeutic use, with appropriate set and setting, in psychotherapy and psychiatry.
If you look back at 1950s you can find a story of Valentina Wasson who was the first Westerner to try magic mushrooms.
Talk briefly about non-induced psychedelic states.
When psychedelics became illegal in the late 70s, stan groff came up with a breathing technique called holotropic breathing. This technique allows you to put yourself in a non-drug-induced psychedelic state. We will explore that and also other techniques, such as gong baths, yoga nidra or cyberdelics – psychedelic virtual reality.
You also look at women in the field of psychedelics. Why did you feel the need to focus on women within the field?
There are a growing number of women who pursued the career in the psychedelics related field and whose accomplishments are really noteworthy. There are very influential female professionals -scientists, researchers, authors, facilitators, therapists, and campaigners. However, white males still dominate the field and they are over represented in the media. In some extreme cases men are credited for accomplishments of women. If you look back at 1950s you can find a story of Valentina Wasson who was the first Westerner to try magic mushrooms. Yet, hardly anyone knows her. Everyone credits her husband, Robert Gordon Wasson to be the ‘first white men to try magic mushrooms'. We felt the need to readdress the balance. We want to highlight achievements of women who are key players in the current psychedelic renaissance.
Can you explain more your wish for women to follow their dreams psychedelics?
We want to appeal to females who have some interest in psychedelic substances and would like to pursue this interest further. It is believed that psychedelics are a career suicide. It's a male dominated field which can be discouraging to many talented female researchers, doctors and scientists. We are aiming to encourage those women to follow their dreams and pursue their life goals without worrying ‘what would people say'. I was worried myself to come out of my psychedelic closet, thinking it will ruin my work life. On the contrary. I started getting jobs that are more aligned with my interests and I am living a more fulfilling life.
You postulate that psychedelics are needed in particular within the LGBTQ+ communities can you explain and elaborate more on that?
If you look at statistics, depression affects LGBTQ+ people at higher rates than the heterosexual population. LGBTQ+ youths are more likely than heterosexual students to report high levels of drug use and feelings of depression. LGBTQ+ youths are twice as likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers. The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network released a report in 2013 on LGBT youth that states the seventy-four percent of LGBTQ+ youth were verbally harassed because of their sexual orientation. 55 percent were verbally harassed because of their gender expression. Challenges don't stop at school. How a parent responds to their LGBTQ+ teen can have a tremendous impact on their child's current and future mental and physical health. Psychedelics can help to heal the trauma caused by oppression.
Can you talk about the challenges you faced and are facing in creating this documentary?
The only challenge is finding the funding. I have worked on this film for four months now and there was loads of travelling involved. We are at the stage where we are running out of our options. However, we are soon starting our crowdfunding campaign. We hope we can get enough support from people to finalize both projects.
What did you understand about the psychedelic culture and what do you now know through researching it?
I always knew a bit about the psychedelic culture. I've loved psy-trance since I was young. I love Alex Grey – the psychedelic painter, I listened to McKenna and I was fascinated with Timothy Leary. However, now, after meeting so many fascinating people who dedicated their lives to psychedelics, after spending time with them and listening to their stories, after reading their books and attending their talks, I feel like I am getting an in-depth representation of the movement.
It is a movement of scientists, doctors, activists, artists and hippies. They all seem to co-exist together and attend the same conferences and the same festivals. Everyone knows each other. It feels like a massive global family. I go from city to city and meet more psychonauts all the time. They are so keen to connect with us and talk. On my journey with this film I made so many new friends that will stay with me forever. It's a beautiful community and it's becoming bigger and bigger every day.
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Featured image courtesy of the Beckley Foundation
Second and third images stills taken from the forthcoming film The Psychedelic Renaissance