Jon co-founded the Psychedelic Society
Say know to drugs
That very first time? It blew his mind.
Jon Keller Munoz was only nineteen years old when he took LSD for the first time. He and his friends were sitting among the trees. He remembers how much more vivid the greenery surrounding them suddenly was, and how deep their conversations were.
‘I wasn’t doing very well at the time’, the Spanish-German psychology student (23) says. ‘I was addicted to weed and video games and I almost got kicked out of high school several times. I was sleepwalking through life and repressed a lot.’
But all that changed when psychedelics came into his life. ‘It was an eye-opener for me. I could connect with my friends through deeper conversations; this level of love and vulnerability was completely new to me.’
Jon’s experiences with LSD and MDMA pushed him to turn his life around: he began focusing on exercise more, changed to a healthier diet, started therapy and meditated. He also picked up journalist Michael Pollan’s book on psychedelics, How to change your mind. ‘It started an obsession. I researched the topic for three months, read scientific articles, and everything else I could find’, he says.
This level of love and vulnerability was completely new to me
When he came to Groningen in 2020 to study, he felt he should spread the word of psychedelics’ mind-expanding benefits. He didn’t want to go about it all willy-nilly though, just randomly recommending drugs to people. Instead, he founded the Psychedelic Society Groningen with three other people. Its mission: to organise events – like a lecture on psychedelic science – and to educate people on the possible dangers of psychedelics and their safe use as a tool for spiritual growth and healing.
The first event attracted only six participants, but that number quickly went up with each meeting, Jon says. ‘Now, there’s three hundred of us.’ The society’s board also grew: it currently consists of six people.
Through the Psychedelic Society, Jon hopes to erase the stigma on the use of mind-altering substances. ‘And the stigma on spirituality in academia, as well.’ The group wants to collaborate closely with scientists to research psychedelics’ possible benefits in a wide range of areas. They even have a scientific adviser, Stefanie Enriquez Geppert, who is doing research at the UG on microdosing.
This hype is naive and based on hope. The research is very limited
Professor Robert Schoevers, head of the psychiatry department at the UMCG, has been researching psychedelic substances’ therapeutic uses for years and has seen the interest in psychedelics grow the last few years. The supposed favourable effects are legion: they may help with mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety, help those addicted to smoking or alcohol, and offer relief to cancer patients in pain. But Schoevers is sceptical about those claims.
‘This hype is naive and based on hope. The research is very limited’, he says. ‘There are some aspects of psychedelics that could be relevant, but only in addition to the current treatments.’
Schoevers’ own research focuses on the use of psilocybin – more commonly known as ‘magic mushrooms’ – and ketamine to treat severely depressed patients who are resistant to the currently approved treatment with antidepressants. ‘Psychedelics may help dismantle certain pathways in these people and build new synapses – connections between neurons – that can open up new perspectives.’
Clear evidence for this is still lacking, however, so Schoevers believes it is much too early to use the treatment in general psychiatry. Besides that, taking psychedelics is not without risk, he warns: when someone already has a mental disorder, they can aggravate the already existing problems or lead to a worse situation. ‘But even if you don’t have a mental disorder, it’s extremely important that you educate yourself before using and let your environment know about it.’
I started running around and almost got hit by a car
Jon agrees with him on that: two vital aspects to consider, he says, are the setting in which you take psychedelics and the dosage. In the early days, before he knew how to deal with a higher dose, he was almost hit by a car, he recalls. ‘I was outside with friends and I started running around.’
Nowadays, he almost never uses psychedelics with friends anymore. He finds it works best when he takes them on his own. ‘I buy some flowers and put them in a vase in my room. I meditate. I put on music and then I lie down with a T-shirt over my eyes’, he explains. He only uses low doses: that’s enough to help him with introspection. ‘I experimented with mushrooms a few times and just last year, I tried ketamine for the first time’, he says. ‘All of my experiences have helped me in many ways, even when they were difficult.’
Most psychedelics are still illegal in the Netherlands, but Jon and his fellow society members hope they will decriminalised in the future – not legalised, he stresses, as MDMA and ketamine come with dangers and are addictive. They do believe, however, that people need to be educated about them. ‘But I am a hardcore optimist’, Jon says. ‘I think that society now is hungry for spirituality and connection. We need spirituality and widespread therapy to heal the world from its traumas and overcome our crises.’
The Psychedelic Society is starting local, though, with a range of events and workshops, starting mid-February, on spirituality, mindfulness, meditation, the philosophy behind yoga, and even cooking, to encourage people to implement healthy habits into their lifestyle. ‘We try to offer a lot of different activities to help people connect with each other, to be more mindful about everyday life and to not focus on the ego.’
Nevertheless, Schoevers warns, people should not search for the answers to their problems in psychedelics alone. ‘If you rely solely on mushrooms, that’s sad’, he says. ‘It’s good to get daily physical exercise, make social connections, do something meaningful like work or focus on a hobby. And taking frequent breaks and resting is very important. There are many other ways in which you can improve your lifestyle that don’t involve psychedelics.’