Jahan Khamsehzadeh’s book, The Psilocybin Connection: Psychedelics, the Transformation of Consciousness, and Evolution on the Planet– An Integral Approach, offers a fascinating invitation to question some of society’s most common assumptions about the evolution of our species and the underpinnings of modern culture. It speaks to the depth of his relationship with psilocybin mushrooms and the visionary spaces they open.
The Psilocybin Connection explores provocative questions. It examines the nature of reality and the future of our species. It’s a tall order. But Khamsehzadeh argues that psilocybin mushrooms have significantly impacted human evolution and may play a central role in developing our consciousness moving forward. He believes that modern society is in a unique time where forces are coalescing to support greater unity with a collective consciousness.
Khamsehzadeh has a doctorate in Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness from the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) and has worked as a legal psychedelic guide in Jamaica. His academic studies provide a foundation for this work, particularly his study of integral theory.
Popularized by philosopher Ken Wilber, and sometimes referred to as “the theory of everything,” integral theory encapsulates several perspectives on evolution into a larger model. Devotees of Wilber will be pleased to see how Khamsehzadeh intertwines that perspective with historical and present-day references.
Khamsehzadeh’s work as a guide is the true heart of the book. The Psilocybin Connection offers a universal framework that speaks to the profundity of psilocybin’s impact on so many psychedelic journeyers. He does so with extensive research that may encourage even those skeptical of psilocybin’s potential to take another look. While many of us have struggled to explain how our own experiences with psilocybin have been so meaningful, The Psilocybin Connection successfully articulates the multifaceted experience, how it shapes us as individuals and as a collective.
The book begins with Khamsehzadeh as a teen who is suicidally depressed. After graduating high school, he takes psilocybin mushrooms at a Tool concert, where he experiences a profoundly life-changing spiritual awakening which he believes connects him to all other people on earth. While this experience is ineffable, the most important lesson Khamsehzadeh takes away is the essential value of love and learning which drive him to further exploration.
With his own experience as a template, Khamsehzadeh provides an overview of our understanding of psilocybin in Western culture. Many are familiar with the introduction of psilocybin to western audiences through R. Gordon Wasson’s 1957 article in Life Magazine, “Seeking the Magic Mushroom,” which details the mushroom ceremonies of Maria Sabina, a Mexican curandera.
But this book reminds us that there were over 1,000 studies on psychedelics and mental health even before 1965. While focusing on research in the 1960’s, The Psilocybin Connection provides a useful overview of the last decades of investigations in the psychedelic space, including up to Oregon’s 2020 vote to legalize psilocybin psychotherapy under the larger framework of adult use.
Khamsehzadeh then introduces integral theory, which expands the view of the book beyond the limits of scientific materialism. He believes that humans reside within a complex living system and that consciousness pervades all of existence. This perspective is fundamental to his understanding of consciousness itself, but also his view of the psychedelic state and of human evolution.
Although many aspects of the book are accessible to the lay reader interested in psilocybin, some may find its theoretical underpinning challenging. Those familiar with Wilber’s philosophies will find the applicability to psychedelics intriguing, but it may be inaccessible to the general reader.
What will resonate for most, however, is that Khamsehzadeh also sees development as relational, noting that all species impact other life forms in their ecology. He describes mycelial networks as a prime example of the interconnectedness of life. Through psychedelics, humans can tap into this organic process. This may be why so many journeyers experience themselves as a part of something bigger and not separate from our earth and nature. This aspect of the book may give readers new language for expressing their experiences of unity and connectedness using psilocybin.
According to Khamsehzadeh, psilocybin would have naturally grown in most ancestral environments on the planet and today, 23 species of primates eat fungi. Much of our early ancestors’ time was spent in polyamorous and collectivist communities, which may have predisposed prehistoric people to psychedelic use. Drawing from this orientation and the work of other writers who have examined psilocybin, such as Paul Stamets and Terence McKenna, the book hypothesizes that psilocybin mushrooms may help modern humans explore questions about the evolution of consciousness.
Khamsehzadeh believes that psilocybin would have been beneficial to the proliferation of the human species, promoting in-group harmony, visual acuity, brain processing, and triggering increased sexual arousal. Even small doses of psilocybin may have supported our ancestors in accessing resources, increasing reproduction, and expediting brain development through the neurogenesis and brain plasticity documented in modern research on psilocybin.
The book’s enthusiasm around polyamory and plant-based diets might give some readers pause, and these observations likely deserve more nuance and exploration than are given here. Still, Khamsehzadeh’s willingness to challenge conventional thinking in so many realms is admirable.
Psilocybin also impacted social life, perhaps influencing the development of more significant creative pursuits and language in early societies. Psychedelic rituals may have underpinned many modern religious practices. Evidence of mushroom shamanism is found in paleolithic and mesolithic times in cave drawings that are thousands of years old. Mushroom cultures have existed in almost every part of the planet and many continue to this day.
Ultimately, Khamsehzadeh is optimistic that psilocybin will continue to have a profound impact on the future. The psychedelic experience has influenced almost all aspects of our society – art, science, mental health, technology, and social justice movements. After reading this book, it’s hard to imagine what modern civilization would look like without the benefits of these substances.
With the support of trained facilitators and the growing movement for decriminalization of psychedelics, Khamsehzadeh sees an opportunity for psychedelics to inform a more interconnected orientation to the world. Realizing our unity with the planet and each other may be an advantage as we face pressing challenges, such as environmental destruction and unrestricted capitalism.
The Psilocybin Connection predicts a coming “fourth ” industrial revolution, supported by cryptocurrency, where platforms share information allowing for greater coordination. This may raise some eyebrows given the current environmental impact of crypto. But when Khamsehzadeh sees a “more consciously interconnected, unified world – an external expression of the internal realizations of a deeply interconnected and unified consciousness that can be experienced in psychedelic states,” it rings true.
Ultimately, psilocybin and the states they invoke promote visioning the future beyond current paradigms and limits. The book makes the case that this process is accelerating and increasing in complexity.
How might psychedelics increase the complexity and synchronicity in our lives? What might society look like if there were a greater unifying force connecting us all? While we can’t know for sure, this book feels like a call into a radical paradigm shift. The book ends by quoting Tool: “Swing on the spiral of our divinity and still be a human… We’ll ride the spiral to the end and may just go where no one’s been. Spiral out, keep going!”
The Psilocybin Connection: Psychedelics, the Transformation of Consciousness, and Evolution on the Planet-- An Integral Approach By Jahan Khamsehzadeh 368 pp. North Atlantic Books. $19.95.
Image: Nicki Adams