Microdosing is all the rage these days, and the great advances in psychedelic research by MAPS and other groups center around what could be considered standard or normal single doses of psychedelic substances—enough to cause a real and therapeutic effect, but only that much and no more. But what about macrodosing?
Perhaps the greatest living psychedelic and psychological pioneer today, Stan Grof, developed models of high-dose LSD therapy (and after LSD was made illegal, breathwork) that induced Holotropic states—deep and visceral non-ordinary experiences that evoke the totality of being and existence. These holotropic states brought on by therapeutic macrodosing open up deeper portals than micro, threshold, or “full” psychedelic experiences, allowing people to unearth primal traumas from birth and pre-verbal childhood. You can think of it as psychedelic therapy on steroids, with more potential for healing, but requiring impeccable care, ethics, set, and setting under a highly trained therapist.
To better understand the benefits of macrodosing, we spoke with Javier Charme, a clinical psychologist, CIIS graduate and Director at Formación Transpersonal Grof in Chile. As a close associate of Stan Grof, he is one of the world’s leading experts on holotropic states, transpersonal psychology, and therapeutic work with high doses of LSD. In this interview, we discuss Javier’s background and introduction to psychedelic work, and the unique power and value of high-dose psychedelic experiences in therapeutic settings.
Thank you so much for speaking with us, Javier. Can you give us a brief overview of your background with psychology and psychedelics, and how you came to work with Stan Grof?
I am a Chilean clinical psychologist with a long and intense passion for holotropic states. I began studying psychology in South Africa, finished in Chile and then did post-degree studies at the California Institute of Integral Studies. After returning to Chile, I taught transpersonal psychology and psychotherapy for a bit over a decade at the Universidad del Pacífico in Chile, which was the first transpersonal-oriented psychology program in South America.
In 1999 at the age of 23, I finished my training in Holotropic Breathwork, where I met Stan and had the first of many opportunities to translate for him. After that, I started leading groups with this method and continued helping with several training modules. Around 2008 I had Stan’s blessing to open Formación Transpersonal Grof in South America, training and certifying facilitators in Holotropic Breathwork and Transpersonal Psychology.
I have facilitated around 400 group sessions with Holotropic Breathwork, which has been a moving and powerful journey co-adventured with thousands of people. I have also worked individually in clinical practice with holotropic states for a variety of emotional problems, seeing over and over the extraordinary power and benevolence of holotropic states over a wide range of psychological situations. Over the years, I’ve seen how extremely safe and reliably effective these techniques really are.
In relation to psychedelics, I consider myself a devotee of sacred medicines and an eager psychonaut. I was curious, naughty and prone to misbehaving ever since I was young. Around age 15 I had some bizarre experiences with drugs used for the treatment of Parkinson´s disease, which produced heavy and vivid hallucinations. After this decidedly non-recommendable experience, I was impressed to see how reality can be utterly transformed through chemical means. This was probably my first calling to psychology.
Around that time, I also tried and enjoyed both cannabis and San Pedro—the main Chilean psychedelic—several times. These experiences were interesting as a mini-introduction to psychedelics. When I was 17, my family moved to South Africa, where older friends introduced me to LSD, which I had been longing to meet after reading Huxley´s The Doors of Perception.
I had several interesting experiences, but nothing too extraordinary. This changed the day I became 19 on a beautiful African beach, celebrating after doubling the usual one paper dose and having the first powerful spiritual experience of my life. This awesome experience somehow redeemed any kind of reticence I could have been holding in relation to my history and my life and made cellularly clear for me that life—and being alive—was the most sacred mystery ever. This was a vivid experience of what mystics speak about. I felt that after seeing this, if I had to die the next day, it would have all been worth it and that I could only be extremely grateful. This empowered and kickstarted my love and devotion to LSD. After that I spent as much time as I could tripping in nature, enjoying the sweet and beautiful astrological transits of the early 90´s. I became pretty good at tripping and after a few hours I would come back home full of gratitude and awe.
After three years, and by the time we came back to live in Chile, I had taken several dozens of trips, and in my naiveté and youthfulness thought I had some idea of what psychedelics were about. A teacher at university lent me Stan´s book The Adventure of Self Discovery, and shortly afterwards the first Holotropic Breathwork workshop happened in Chile. I was very impressed and excited and decided to train to become a facilitator. Soon I understood that psychedelic therapy was practiced with doses that exceeded by far what I thought were already “high doses,” and that you were supposed to go inwards with closed eyes during the whole duration in a very particular setting, a whole new world.
At the age of 21, I had my first macrodose psychedelic session of Holotropic therapy (500mics). One single overwhelming dose—heroic. After having my butt and ego kicked severely in this experience, it became pretty clear that I had basically seen nothing so far in all my outward journeys, that I was a spiritual and psychedelic puppy and that Stan was the greatest psychologist and guide you could come across. My passion for inner exploration with macrodoses exploded, and at that time (96-97) I was blessed to come in contact with ayahuasca and mushrooms, with whom I had a parallel and profound love affair for decades. Around 2002, Bufo alvarius and 5-MeO-DMT became fascinating new teachers.
Over the years, I have experienced and happily survived way over 200 macrodose sessions with these medicines, and many recreational ones too. I spent the first five years reliving my gestation in the womb, and after that, many years going through my birth process in the most realistic, detailed and powerful way you could imagine. I became very passionate and inspired with Grofian psychology, as it masterfully describes in detail the realms and dynamics people experience at this depth of inner exploration. I’m convinced it is by far the deepest, widest and most precise vision and model of the human psyche in the whole of psychology, the only one coming out of vast psychedelic research, and therefore adequate and capable of safely holding powerful holotropic states. They have been, and still are, the most powerful and effective therapeutic method. Of all psychedelic experiences, for me, Grofian LSD Holotropic psychedelic therapy with macrodoses is by far the most powerful, interesting and effective method available.
A lot of people are talking about microdosing these days, and fewer are talking about macrodosing. The current zeitgeist of the psychedelic renaissance is more along the lines of restraint and minimum effective doses. What does macrodosing offer, and what is the therapeutic or revelatory potential of a mindfully done macrodose experience?
Minimum doses have their rightful place for certain specific situations, some of which have yet to be discovered, as microdosing is very new. Psychedelics are extremely generous medicines, but the matter of the fact is that minimum or small doses are simply not nearly as effective as macrodoses in psychotherapy. They really pale in comparison to the dramatic positive improvement of symptoms and personality transformation that can be achieved when using the correct dose (macro) for healing and deep inner exploration. I am particularly optimistic about the potential of mushrooms and LSD at high doses in informed therapeutic settings, as they have already proven to be safe and effective with most emotional problems. 5-MeO-DMT is also an incredibly fast and effective way to induce most powerful mystical experiences.
Macrodosing reveals the deep psychodynamics that occur in holotropic states, allowing for a more precise comprehension of the human mind, which is a truly remarkable object of study. When these understandings get assimilated into psychology, the impact on therapy should be enormous.
Macrodoses should never be taken casually or uninformed without the right screening, preparation, integration and setting, including an experienced sitter, as this could be very confusing and dangerous. It’s always a very profound egocide that goes way beyond anyone´s possibility to function in normal reality, and therefore needs to be contained and well accompanied by trained therapists or experienced and ethical facilitators. Anyone even thinking about it should begin by carefully reading Grof´s LSD Psychotherapy.
Macrodosing is a very special and deep spiritual practice too, in the sense that psychedelic inner exploration resembles a very high and advanced form of yoga. It uses chemical means to powerfully and effectively awaken “kundalini”, similar to what was secretly known as “Aushadhi” yoga in India (awakening of kundalini with the help of Ayurveda). When the process goes numinous it can open some of the most powerful communions and absorptions in consciousness that a human being can experience, probably even more powerful than the kykeon of the Eleusinian mysteries. It’s probably as close today as one may get to the Soma talked about at the origins of yoga. It demands important previous psychological understanding of the maps of consciousness, perfect setting, quite a bit of courage, extreme trust in the process, big surrender and letting go. Many times it catalyzes extreme spiritual and ecstatic experiences that would put any mystic weeping on his knees. The healing and transformative potential of these legitimate spiritual experiences should not be underestimated.
Very few psychonauts and psychedelic therapists, even among the most experienced, have experienced macrodosing in a sequential, systematic process. This is mainly because this important knowledge and necessary framing has not yet been assimilated by psychology and psychiatry. This is understandable, as the required psychedelic tools for effectively opening the unconscious, particularly mushrooms and LSD, were misunderstood and outlawed for decades. I mention this because it seems that ayahuasca, DMT and MDMA, while being sacred, useful and extraordinary in their own rights, do not open the unconscious in quite the same therapeutic manner, with the same clarity, effectiveness and depth. My experience is that it is uncommon that they will take people to deep perinatal experiences.
The chances of having truly life-transforming experiences are highly amplified and enabled with macrodosing in therapeutic settings. Many people take psychedelics in lower doses like I did in my youth, in lovely natural surroundings, which tends to grant an aesthetic and beautiful experience. The problem is that sometimes recreational use may leave partially cooked or unresolved experiences and processes in the unconscious. Many people touch difficult or painful parts of their inner processes, and without understanding, freak out or blame the medicine, usually stopping the exploration process. This is probably a defense coming out of understandable fear. This occurs because of the dose, but also lack of framework, preparation, attention, introspection and internalization of the experience during the effect. This may lead to different problems such as crises, ego inflation, flashbacks or even appearance of new or old uncomfortable symptoms.
In the spiritual and psychedelic circles, some people become quite unrooted or impractical in their daily lives because their inner processes remain unresolved. For many people that try psychedelics recreationally, it usually remains somehow like this. From a mental health perspective, you need to walk the spiritual path (holotropic), with your feet on the ground (hylotropic). This implies a regulation and harmony between your inner processes and your standing and functioning in the concrete day-to-day world. In fact, it is safer and usually way more healing and grounding to conduct a powerful therapeutic session, internalized with the right set and setting, than to do a milder casual trip in nature or at parties, as so many people do every weekend across the world. High doses, in psychotherapy within wider processes, allow for such deep healing experiences that they tend to bring deeper and rounder closures than with any other framework.
Macrodosing was deeply explored in a very scientific manner before the seventies in Europe and in the US, but it has had almost zero attention in the last decades. That’s why I like to call it “The Great Hidden Door.” In fact the door is Holotropic states, and the superb key is LSD macrodosing. Healing and psychotherapy with Holotropic states goes deeper, faster and higher. It takes people very safely to and through the real roots of their emotional and psychosomatic difficulties with the most effective known method for their resolution, namely Holotropic therapy with breathing or psychedelics.
It seems that the effort now necessary is to upgrade the current superficial, incorrect and partial vision of the psyche and therefore improve the impractical methods of most talk therapies—particularly of modern psychiatry, which is a great business for pharmaceuticals but not therapeutic at all. Today psychiatry is merely palliative and does not address or modify the etiology or cause of the problems. It assumes there is nothing you can do to resolve your symptoms experientially, which is simply not true, and in many cases a therapeutic error. Emotional and psychosomatic problems are sustained not only by traumas from your life (biographical), but also by strong perinatal memories and dynamics, as well as transpersonal elements. When we understand this, we have a more realistic diagnosis of the magnitude of the problems and can apply the adequate means that would allow for the effective processing of these causes, namely Holotropic states and macrodosing.
Behind the different symptoms and difficulties across our lives, there is a partially unfolded process of emotional healing, growth and spiritual awakening trying to occur. Until this deep spiritual need is fulfilled, we can’t achieve true, deep, lasting healing and wellbeing. We see the world and ourselves through lenses which are deeply colored by layers of unresolved themes and inner experiences. This state of being is a reduced and impoverished possibility of who and what we really are, as transpersonal psychology and spiritual traditions reveal. Having the possibility of experientially and effectively resolving these traumatic layers and turning them into steps of inner growth is like the holy grail, or the great hidden door of psychology.
For a sincere spiritual seeker, consciously exploring holotropic states is the best chance for finding what we seek. Spiritual experiences always occur in an expanded holotropic state, even if brief and spontaneous. One cannot force nor guarantee a spiritual experience, but one can predispose and become highly prone, increasing one´s possibilities with systematic holotropic states. Spiritual experiences are fundamental for emotional and spiritual maturation. They allow for a continuous recontextualization of our understanding of ourselves and reality. For a normal person, to be able to access so deep within is a very precious gift. It may nurture our highest needs, gradually opening and revealing our deepest nature and truth. As Stan points out, inner exploration is the most important enterprise in which you can engage in life. Seen from this perspective, psychology enriched with holotropic states becomes like an ancient-modern healing ceremony, something very sacred, spiritual and humane. This is incredible good news and a great possibility for a suffering and confused world, which is sadly on the edge of self-destruction for the sheer lack of inner growth, wisdom and love. For the sake of humanity and all the species on this planet, I sincerely hope psychedelic research will soon return to and embrace well-informed macrodosing practices.