The psychedelic experience is often spoken of in relation to “healing,” that emotions and memories can “bubble up” to the surface, begging the tripper to deal with them head on. It’s a staple of psychedelic therapy, especially MDMA-assisted therapy for PTSD. And during the past few months, I’ve been deep in psychedelic research—listening to podcasts, reading the entire canon of psychedelic literature and interviewing over a dozen psychonauts—for a book on psilocybin mushrooms I am working on. Through my research it felt like I stumbled into another universe, one where men are open about their feelings and discuss them publicly with a sensitive vocabulary. It got me thinking, could psychedelics be the answer to toxic masculinity?
In short: Perhaps. A recent 2018 study found that male recreational users of LSD or psilocybin were less likely than non-psychedelic users to engage in intimate partner violence. The researchers analyzed an anonymous online survey of 1,266 people that asked about psychedelic use as well as participants’ ability to regulate emotions. They found that psychedelic users were not only less likely to be violent toward their partners but were also able to better regulate their emotions than non-users. Begging the question as to whether or not psychedelics are the missing link in helping men recognize and regulate their feelings, especially violent ones.
Psychedelics seem like the antidote to traditional masculinities, which dictate that “men should be stoic and strong both emotionally and physically.” Stoicism, or the idea of the “strong, silent type” who never admits to feeling fear or sadness, can actually be detrimental to men’s health. In fact, the American Psychology Association came out last year with “Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Boys and Men” that informs practitioners: “Traditional masculinity ideology has been shown to limit males’ psychological development, constrain their behavior, result in gender role strain and gender role conflict, and negatively influence mental health and physical health.” At the same time, according to Linwood Lewis, PhD psychologist and professor at Sarah Lawrence College, toxic masculinity is when these traditionally masculine traits are used to harm other people, either emotionally or physically.
Psychedelics are kind of conducive to feeling softer, feeling more open, having more space, and being less reactive and aggressive.