In their letter soliciting contributions to this book, the editors wrote, “we came to the conclusion that psychedelic drugs have influenced both the lives of individual users and society in general more than is usually acknowledged-sometimes subtly, sometimes dramatically. ” I was delighted to receive their invitation, since these words almost exactly expressed my own conclusions after 8 years of psychiatric clinical and research work. For 5 of those 8 years I have worked in areas such as the nature of psychological well-being, non-Western psychologies and religions, consciousness, and the effects of meditation. I have also undertaken a personal study of meditative and non-Western traditions, and I thus have had the opportunity of meeting, interviewing, and studying with a wide range of people in these related disciplines.
Whenever I came to know these people closely, the same story would emerge: that although they rarely acknowledged it in public, the psychedelics had played an important role in introducing them to and facilitating their passage through these disciplines. It occurred to me that this might well be a case of what social scientists call “plurality ignorance:” a situation in which each individual thinks he or she is the only one doing something, although in fact the practice is widespread. In this case, what seemed to be widely unrecognized was that large numbers of people appear to have derived, at least from their own point of view, significant benefits from psychedelics, despite popular media accounts of their devastating dangers.