Beyond Mental Health: The Evolutionary Frontier of Intentional Psychedelic Medicine Use in Curated Ceremonial Settings

Ehren Cruz, founder of The SpArc: a groundbreaking coaching approach that utilizes rites of passage immersive experiences to elevate awareness, embodiment, and impact dramatically, shares this article as a companion to his podcast Changing Leadership Mindsets – Psychedelics. 

Listen to the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership: Co-Creating Our Future via Apple PodcastsTuneIn, Spotify, Amazon Music, AudibleiHeartRADIO, and NPR One.

Across the world, the walls of psychedelic prohibition are rapidly crumbling as the momentum of what often is referred to as the “Psychedelic Renaissance” continues to gain steam. Fueled by the alarming needs of a nationwide mental health crisis, compounds once considered taboo are now being celebrated as “breakthrough medicines” from Oprah and Aaron Rodgers to Deepak Chopra and Prince Harry. With over 1400 peer-reviewed journal articles, 25,000 op-eds, and 300+ universities establishing psychedelic research institutes worldwide, the momentum is clearly not showing any sign of slowing down. It’s safe to say we have approached the dawn of a new Era in the acceptance of the therapeutic efficacy and importance of psychedelic medicine. Yet, although mental health is the preeminent driver of this contemporary resurgence in psychedelic interest, it is far from the original reason these “plant medicines” have been utilized by humans since time immemorial.


For deeper insight, we’ll have to take a look back into what researchers at the Center of Psychedelics and Spirituality from Emory University call the “Deep Time” of psychedelic use. The ceremonial path, that is, the utilization of plant medicines as sacramental catalysts in curated rites of passage experiences, can be traced back nearly 40,000 years to prehistoric cave paintings in Northern Spain, France & Africa. The late great Terrence McKenna, his brother Dennis, and prominent mycologist Paul Stamets have proposed the “Stoned Ape Theory,” a time period when homo-sapiens sapiens made a radical elevation in creative and cultural expression likely spawned by the ingestion of psycho-active compounds. The ongoing use of these compounds by subsequent civilizations for “self-actualization, creative inspiration, and spiritual connection” has persisted to this day at the heart of some of the world’s most celebrated traditions.


In Ancient Greece, for over 1700 years, the Eleusinian Mystery Cult served the Kykeon, an ergot-infused psychedelic brew that, when paired with sacred theater, taught of the “Immortality of the Soul”. In Egypt, hieroglyphics of mandrake, psilocybin, and bluewater lilly can be found in depictions of arcane ceremonial rites at the temples of Karnak & Luxor. The Aborigines have long used the Pituri Bush to access dream-like trances for divination and spiritual communion. In the Far East, Vedic ancient Indian temple art reveal the Gods Indra, Vishnu & Shiva dancing atop mushrooms falling from the heavens as they “praised the soma” (a lost elixir) for its divine qualities. Psilocybin is highly documented as a sacred right in Druid, Celtic & Nordic traditions, while peyote, huachuma, and ayahuasca have been central to Indigenous ceremonial use in North & South America for thousands of years. In Ancient Meso-America, Teonachtl (Flesh of the Gods – Psilocybin) was central to the cosmology of the Aztec, Olmec, Maya, Toltec, and Mazatec civilizations, who later regifted it back to the West through Maria Sabina in 1957. There is even great evidence of the use of a psychedelic eucharistic by Gnostic Christians in catacombs pre-council of Nicea in 389 A.D.


What makes psychedelics such a powerful catalyst of radical transformation? To understand this, we look to contemporary scientific research that analyzes the amazing neural-adaptive properties of psilocybin. Psilocybin is a serotonergic compound whose main active alkaloid psilocin connects directly to the 5H2A serotonin receptor. This receptor has a tremendous amount of expression in the neocortex, which governs the ability to change attitude, mood, thought processes, and perceptions. The thalamus, which is the mind’s weigh station for informational exchange, dramatically broadens its sensory information flow, greatly increasing integrative communication. Psilocybin also stimulates the production of Brain Derived Neurotropic Factor (BDNF), a protein that nurtures existing neurons and promotes the genesis of new ones. Increased neuroplasticity, along with pyramidal dendritic sprouting, supports the breakdown of maladaptive connections and the fortifying of positive ones. This is why powerful realizations made in the journey experience are seldom one-off insights and instead persist into sustained new pathways of thought, influencing decision-making far beyond the scope of immediate experience. And this is only the beginning; after nearly a 50-year moratorium on psychedelic research, the eruption of interest is leading to more and more novel therapeutic applications at an unprecedented rate.


Yet psychedelics go far beyond helping the unwell reestablish a baseline quality of life. In the annals of history, it’s frequently overlooked how many brilliant discoveries were made under the influence of psychedelics. The nobel prize-winning geneticist Francis Crick reportedly discovered the structure of the double helix under the influence of LSD. In biochemistry, Kary Mullis developed the PCR test from insights gleaned on psychedelics. Steve Jobs, while on psychedelics, was inspired to shift “prioritizing quality & synergy in products over revenue generation.” Ralph Abraham credits his groundbreaking insights on chaos theory to psychedelics, while the creation of “cloud” storage by Andrew Wiggins and advances in quantum gravity theory by Carlo Rovelli were paradigm-shifting additions to their respective fields. And, of course, we can’t forget the miraculous no-hitter pitched by the great Dock Ellis in 1970 while under the influence of a high-dose psychedelic experience.


Access to creative genius is not confined to adept scientists, nor is it solely about novel discovery. It’s important to remember another key facet of the psychedelic experience includes the release of oxytocin, a chemical often associated with breastfeeding that creates deep and sincere feelings of self-worth and self-love. This, along with serotonin and feelings of deep contentment and interconnection, often leads to powerful gestures of empathy and compassion towards the self and others. In my own work, I recently facilitated a curated psychedelic immersive experience for three YPO Billionaire leaders who own a software security engineering firm and were in the middle of an equity rollover into a newly formed entity. While in a place of deep reflection on how to divvy up a $20,000,000 surplus mid-journey, they came to the powerful realization of the genuine love and care they held for many employees who were not shareholders and thus did not have guaranteed positions in the formulation of the new organization. Instead of dividing their windfall between the three of them, they decided at that very moment to provide each employee in the organization a $50,000 cash bonus, a guaranteed position in the new organization, and options to buy shares in the new organization no matter how large or small the investment. In one brief moment of compassionate realization, they changed the life trajectory of 400 earnest employees who went from a period of great trepidation in potentially losing their positions to a life-affirming capital investment in their future.


In supporting dozens of curated retreats and masterminding psychedelic ceremonial experiences, as well as upwards of 150 one-on-one self-actualization journeys, I’ve seen countless shifts in integrative thinking release clients from self-imposed limitations while opening them up to new thresholds of potential. Time and time again, accessing these transpersonal states of consciousness has resulted in dramatic life-affirming decisions that have had a profound impact on families, communities, and organizations. When you let go of who you think you are, you open up into who you truly are; and there are no bounds to the creative potential of a psyche that is free of the confines of social and cultural conditioning.


As psychedelic science reveals in countless studies since the landmark Johns Hopkins research led by the legendary Dr. Rolland Griffith, there is a direct correlation in the power of transcendental revelation leading toward lasting therapeutic outcomes. From my many years of guiding ceremonial journeys to impact professionals, leaders, and entrepreneurs, there is no doubt accessing mystical states in a supportive intentional container can lead toward profound elevation in personal and professional capacity. This insight and healing directly correlate to a dramatic rise in emotional intelligence, innovation, and compassionate servant leadership.


In our contemporary culture that is bursting at the seams with complex problems, we need provocative solutions to expand our perception into new creative outcomes. As Albert Einstein famously said, “You cannot solve a problem with the same mind that created it.”  Enter psychedelics. With the right preparation, navigation, and intentional integration framework, these powerful compounds can provide you with a surefire way to discover “How to Change your Mind” for the betterment of us all.



Ehren Cruz is a historian & anthropologist, Third Wave Psychedelic Certified Coach (CCP1), CTA & ICF Professional Certified Coach (PCC), Master Ceremonialist, Trained Harm Reductionist, loving husband & proud father. He is devoted to the healing & self-actualization of self & others in all facets of his life.

For over a decade, Ehren has dedicated his life to the creation of experiences that ignite the mind, inspire the heart, and empower our communities. From reimagining organizational culture to transforming the face of festivals & events, his success is rooted in the fostering of environments that welcome and encourage self-actualization, team synergy, and inspire creative expression. Between 2009-2019, Ehren produced, curated, and served as Master of Ceremonies for events welcoming over 300K patrons, hailing from 80 different nations, including 5400+ performers, 3000+ individual shows, 1650+ workshops, and countless immersive experiences – setting a new bar for what’s possible when converging visionary art, music, culture, & spirit into the alchemy of intentional festival settings.

After a decade as an award-winning producer & high-performance team builder, netting over $100M in gross regional income through festivals & events, in early 2021, Ehren founded The SpArc: a groundbreaking coaching approach that utilizes rites of passage immersive experiences to dramatically elevate awareness, embodiment, and impact.


Thank you for reading the Innovative Leadership Insights, where we bring you thought leaders and innovative ideas on leadership topics each week. 


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Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-Creating Our Future on your favorite podcast platform, including Apple PodcastsTuneInSpotify, Amazon Music, AudibleiHeartRADIO, and NPR One.

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