Taking psychedelics is largely seen as something that people do when they’re young, rambunctious, and not yet saddled with the heavy responsibilities of a career or raising a family. But taking psychedelics isn’t always about partying hard. Many people consume substances such as psilocybin mushrooms, LSD, MDMA, or DMT to facilitate healing and to better understand themselves and the world inside and around them.
Which begs the question: Can parents responsibly consume psychedelics? If so, how can this be done? And more importantly, how should parents respond when their children inevitably ask them about their psychedelic use?
Jonathan “Djinn” Thompson sought the answer to these questions years ago. They began experimenting with psychedelics in the ‘90s while they were an anthropology student in college. They first took five grams of magic mushrooms with a friend, which triggered not only a life-long journey exploring psychedelics, but also a constant collision-course with other adults who sought plant-based healing but didn’t know how to juggle tripping with raising a family.
Over a decade ago, Thompson and their then-partner gave birth to their first child. Thompson realized back then that there were few resources available for “psychedelic parents,” the responsible, career-driven adults who occasionally find solace and healing by taking psychedelics. Inspired by the writings of spiritual guru Terrence McKenna, as well as other psychonauts, Thompson initially decided to write a book that compiled all the information they discovered so parents could easily find it in one place.
“I began working on making it into a book, and I interviewed people in the community — elders, common folk, and others — about their psychedelic experiences while raising families,” Thompson told MERRY JANE. “But as I did it, I decided I didn’t have the gumption to write a book. My conversations with my sources were already so fascinating, so I decided to just put the conversations out there as a podcast.”
The podcast, aptly named Psychedelic Parenting, started in 2015. For two years across 32 episodes, Thompson interviewed academics, medical researchers, psychologists, artists, and plain ol’ Middle American parents about how psychedelics could improve parents’ relationships with their children, their partners, and especially within themselves.
Psychedelic Parenting has been on hiatus for a couple of years due to several life-changing events Thompson underwent. Today, Thompson is raising three kids, ages 13, 10, and 9. They’re also planning to fire up Psychedelic Parenting once more, which should prove incredibly fruitful given the huge strides the psychedelics movement has made in just this past year alone.
And in case you’re wondering: Thompson does not advocate consuming psychedelics in the presence of children, nor do they advocate dosing children on psychedelics, ever. Period. End of story. Psychedelic therapies should only be undertaken by adults in a safe and responsible setting.
To find out why Thompson’s podcast went on hiatus, where they plan to take the podcast in the near future, as well as major takeaways from their highly insightful interviews, MERRY JANE spoke with them over the phone. This interview has been edited for clarity and space.
MERRY JANE: You originally wanted to make Psychedelic Parenting a book, but then you realized that writing a book is kind of a pain in the ass. What prompted you to turn your project into a podcast instead?
Djinn Thompson: In the moment, I felt like there was something missing. The thing that I saw was that we have generations of Westerners who’ve had these psychedelic experiences, but what we didn’t have was a “cultural container” for the experiences.
For example, how old is old enough to begin taking psychedelics? How old is old enough to even know about them? When should a young person be introduced to these experiences? So, for instance, in shamanic cultures, kids are around this medicine all the time. But the difference between our [Western] cultures and those [shamanic] cultures is that they have a “container” to hold those experiences for kids.
Like, when I took mushrooms when I was younger, it was kind of socially isolating. I didn’t know a lot of people who were into it, and the internet didn’t have the ubiquitousness that it has now. There was really no way, back then, to reach out to people and build a community. Even in 2011, I thought, “Well, if my kid was a teenager, at an age they were able to consent to the experience and wanted to have it, what would happen if they had it?” It could potentially be the most profound experience of their life. But they wouldn’t be able to talk to their friends about it, they wouldn’t have other trusted adults they could go to — people who weren’t their mom or dad — so what I wanted to do was to do the work to build that “cultural container,” so we could build generational knowledge about these experiences and how to integrate them into your life.
Eventually, maybe my grandkids will have that cultural container in modern, middle America, where they can have those experiences as a coming-of-age moment, as an initiation going from childhood to adulthood in a way that’s productive for them, so they can take its lessons out there and change the world.
Which of your podcast episodes would you recommend most to new listeners, and why?
The one I’m probably most proud of is the interview with Katherine MacLean, who used to be a researcher at Johns Hopkins University. She was the lead author on one of the most important studies to come out of Johns Hopkins, about how psychedelics affect a person’s ability to be open with others.
I met her at her home for that interview, and at the time her husband and her just had their first child. We had a great conversation about building community, feminism, and how psychedelics affect the way we interact with our family members. And she had just lost her sister around that time, and she talked about how psychedelics affect both birth and death and all of those liminal states that we go through in life.
What trends have you noticed with psychedelic parents you’ve spoken to over the years?
One of the most interesting things I’ve learned from parents who’re open about their psychedelic use is that their kids aren’t interested in using psychedelics, period. In our society, drug use is a great way to rebel against your parents, especially if those parents are the uptight types. But when your dad runs a podcast about psychedelics, then taking drugs is not the way you’re going to rebel against your dad.
If you don’t want your kids to abuse drugs, then talk with them about substances in honest ways. It kills the mystique.
Is there a particular psychedelic that’s more popular among parents than others?
When I was doing the podcast interviews, the psychedelic selections were pretty eclectic. But mushrooms seems to be the most prevalent. I think there are a couple of reasons for that.
For instance, if someone buys acid or ecstasy from a drug dealer, there were two things that could happen: One, it could be fake stuff and nothing would happen, or two, it’s real and you’d have the experience. There are just so many research chemicals floating around now, you have no idea if you’re actually getting LSD or N-bomb or some other drug. But when you get mushrooms, all you have to do is look at them and you can tell, “Yep, those are mushrooms.”
Mushrooms are also easy to grow in a closet, and you don’t have to worry too much about the authorities finding your grow because it reeks, like it goes with cannabis.
How did psychedelics help you better understand yourself, and how’d that translate to being a better parent?
All of my experiences with psychedelics have led to a concept that I call “radical honesty.” It opens you up and puts in a space with all this potentiality. Your sense of self is naked and exposed. You have to look at the things inside of you that you like and don’t like, and you have to deal with your garbage. Something I learned quickly, to cut back on that garbage, is to just be honest all the time.
When you lie, you have to keep track of which story you told to whom, and you have to keep all that shit straight, and it’s just a waste of time and energy. But if you’re honest with people all the time, then you don’t have to worry about that. And I found that those lessons extended to my kids.
How would you recommend other parents to speak with their kids about psychedelics?
I think back to something Allyson Grey once said. Whenever her daughter asked her about anything, whether it was about drugs or sex, she said she would always answer her daughter honestly to the extent that her daughter could understand it. She said she used her kid’s questions as her guide to determine what her kid’s level of understanding was. In other words, if your child is mature enough to ask you a direct question about something, then they’re mature enough to handle the direct, honest answer.
But never tell them more than what they’re asking. For example, if your kid asks you where babies come from, you don’t need to tell them about kink culture. You just need to tell them about the mechanics of sexuality. It’s the same thing with psychedelics.
While exploring psychedelics, you recently had some breakthroughs about your gender identity. Could you talk about that a little bit?
One of the things that made me hit pause on the podcast was my divorce from my childhood sweetheart, who I’d been with since 1995. We grew up together, and I hadn’t had a romantic relationship with anyone else as an adult. At the same time, I was going through a lot of processing of my gender identity.
I had a profound experience with mushrooms during November 2016, and I started questioning some things about my gender, my identity, and my presentation. So, I took five grams of Penis Envy [mushrooms] to sort it out, and it really brought up a lot of things to the forefront from my past. A lot of shame came up, that took me a long time to deal with. I had to look at myself and ask if the version of myself I was putting out into the world was the authentic one.
I looked at where I’d come from and where I was going, and I began to realize that I wasn’t a cisgender male. It took me from that time in November until February the next year to sort out what this experience had meant for me, why it was so difficult to come to terms with that stuff. I went into therapy and continued my personal medicine work, and I came to understand that I’m queer.
I identify as non-binary now, I use they/them pronouns, and I’m incredibly active in the queer community. I’m also a huge advocate of queer people using these psychedelic medicines to heal their daily trauma and their family trauma. There aren’t a lot of people who experience the daily micro-traumas that queer people do other than people of color.
These medicines can be incredibly healing for folks. Psychedelics can help them come to terms with their sense of self — it definitely helped me accept who I am — to be brave, to express oneself honestly.
Where do you plan to take the Psychedelic Parenting podcast now that you’ve experienced so many life-changing events?
Like I said, my identity has changed pretty profoundly. I’d really like to talk about the experiences I’ve had over the past couple of years, such as the disillusion of my long-term relationship and how my relationships with plant medicines has helped me cope with that profound life change. I’d also like to talk more about the dynamics of non-traditional families.
My podcast has always been about family life, and I’m still very much a family person. I have fifty percent custody of my children. But I want to discuss other dynamics, like how open can we be about psychedelics if you have a co-parent who is less open to these things than you are? How do we navigate blended families with psychedelics? How can psychdelics help you come out to your family because you’re queer?
That’s what I want to discuss: How can these things push our culture forward?
To learn more about legalization, decriminalization, and educational efforts in Thompson's home state, check out the Michigan Psychedelic Society's website
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