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Critical… From the Mountains

Critical… From the Mountains

Revelations about critical periods and the power of psilocybin-assisted therapy integration
3 minutes read


July 1, 2024

“But then, for a little moment, the clouds part and you actually see the mountain … and it’s not something you have to believe, but you know it.”

—Zen teacher Vanja Palmers, in the documentary Descending the Mountain

It’s tough to top time spent in the mountains.

Mountains covered with mist that fade into the background.

Themselves peak examples of life in the present moment – with heads in the clouds, soaking in expansive views while remaining fully grounded atop a broad foundation – mountains are places of effortless understanding and stunning beauty.

Of course, it takes hard work and planning to get there. But with the proper preparation and guidance, anyone can enjoy the bounty of the mountaintop. They make a perfect backdrop for a weekend with lifelong friends, if you’re so blessed. And not surprisingly, they make a fantastic location for a psychedelic symposium.

In fact, the Epiphany team just returned from one! The 2024 Aspen Psychedelic Symposium did not disappoint, and the highlights were vast. Attendees were treated to enlightening presentations from the perspectives of:

  • First responders cultivating compassion in law enforcement communities
    (Lt. Sarko Gergerian & Lt. Diane Goldstein)
  • A native of Gabon sharing the rich cultural history of Iboga (Stepane Lasme)
  • An author of Colorado’s Proposition 1221 laying out the new legal psilocybin landscape in the state (Josh Kappel
  • And, of course, we heard from the one and only Rick Doblin, who explained how psychedelics can restore our capacity to be resilient if we recognize that the locus of healing exists within

We also heard brilliant perspectives from indigenous speakers including:

  • Sandor Iron Rope, who spoke of the need to SLOW IT DOWN in order to live in harmony with nature’s vibration. We are all spiritual beings having a human experience.
  • And Coakee William Wildcat who shared that the first step in broader healing is a re-indigenizing for us all to reestablish our connection to natural intelligence. We are all so much more alike than different, and our differences are treasures to be shared with one another.

But the pinnacle of the show may have been the presentation from neuroscientist 
Dr. Gul Dolen. She shared the groundbreaking research from her team around CRITICAL PERIODS in the human brain, and how psychedelics can act as a master key for re-opening critical periods for social reward learning.

In short, critical periods are developmental windows in which a particular skill or characteristic can be most readily acquired. For example, it’s understood for humans that the development of primary senses (vision, hearing, touch) occurs right after birth and closes during infancy; the ability to learn language peaks in infancy and falls as we age; and the ability to acquire higher cognition skills like reading and mathematics crests in childhood and wanes through adolescence into adulthood.

Dr. Dolen’s team found in their research that not only can psychedelics re-open critical learning windows, but that these windows remain open for weeks (or even months!) after a psychedelic experience.

The implications of this are significant in that they drive home the importance of proper INTEGRATION after a psychedelic journey. The individual is in an impressionable state of metaplasticity where they are essentially returned to a juvenile state of suggestibility. With well-formulated intentions set beforehand, and in the hands of caring professionals, one can use this window to achieve profoundly positive lifestyle and habit changes. This would help explain why psychedelic medicine can be so effective for the treatment of rigid mind disorders like anxiety, depression and addiction. Conversely, if one is reckless and returns to a traumatic environment or chaotic life without proper planning, the experience can be counter-productive.

In the words of Dr. Dolen: to offer psychedelic journeys without also providing proper integration is like removing a blood clot from a stroke patient without offering rehab to relearn speech and movement. Or as a colleague put it, like offering knee surgery and considering the subsequent physical therapy “optional.”

This work helps us understand from yet another angle what is abundantly clear in the growing body of psychedelic research – that it’s the THERAPY component that drives favorable outcomes. And that INTEGRATION is nothing short of critical.

If you’re considering a journey into the clouds, please be sure to find a trusted and capable guide – so that you can not only enjoy the epiphanies of the mountaintop, but also bring them safely back home.

1 Colorado’s approved proposition to decriminalize and regulate access for certain psychedelic plants and fungi


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