There’s no way to say it but to say it: Jonathan Thompson thinks parents should take drugs. In particular, he thinks parents — and not all parents, just the ones who are into it — should eat magic mushrooms, sip ayahuasca, or macrodose lysergic acid diethylamide. Does he think they should do this without a sitter? Of course not. Thompson is a reasonable guy and a responsible dad as well as an advocate for what he calls “Psychedelic Parenting,” the use of psychotropic drugs to engender and facility more honest family relationships. His is a fringe movement, to be sure, but with an increasing amount of research illustrating the untapped potential of mind-altering substances, it’s starting to wander dreamily towards the mainstream.
Thompson, who hosts a psychedelic parenting podcast and serves as “Chief Operating Dad” of PsychedelicParenting.com, uses his platform to share what he’s learned both about and by taking drugs. He’s a mainstay on the psychedelic conference circuit and spends a good deal of his time talking with parents about their pharmacological experiences and what they’ve found helpful. As a facilitator for the psilocybin-assisted retreat program MycoMeditations, Thompson also serves as a trip guide for clients looking to go on an internal voyage. Why? Because he and his partner Nicole both believe in radical honesty and to be honest with yourself, you need to get some perspective on yourself. That’s damn hard to do without help. Thompson wants to be that help for others. He has been that help for himself.
Fatherly spoke to Thompson about his evolving relationship with psychedelics, how one should discuss drugs with their kids, and how ayahuasca made him a better, more attentive dad.
How did your relationship with drugs and plant medicines change when you had children?
My psychedelic experiences began in my early twenties as an undergraduate with lots of flights of fancy types of experiences: strong visuals, traveling through space, hyperdimensional fractals, meeting aliens. Then I took about a decade off, living in a meditation community, having my kids, and being a person in the working world. When I came back to psychedelics in 2011, it was fundamentally different. My visions were less fantastical and more practical. There were insights about how to live my life: how to be a better partner, a better father, a better boss, how to be a more authentic version of myself.
Even though it seems counterintuitive, I felt the need to be more open because I’m a father. Of course, there’s the fear that the wrong people hear this but I want to change the world for the better. I owe it to my kids to help manifest a world where they can work with plant teachers freely.
How did these help you become a better father?
Psychedelics were a miracle for me in assisting my understanding that I was an alcoholic and in ending my cravings to drink. After my first Ayahuasca experience in 2014, I went from getting drunk every night and taking Adderall every morning to avoid a hangover, to just no longer having cravings and being able to drink one beer once in awhile like a normal person. The medicine helped me to see how unconscious the alcohol had made me and how I wanted to remain clear headed and more alive.
This translated directly into my life as a dad. I chose to be less angry, more present, and more loving around my kids. And they noticed. The first time I took their mom to an aya ceremony, my son was excited to hear she was going. ‘Now she won’t get angry anymore too,’ he said.
Would you say taking these substances has helped you become more honest with yourself?
After about three years working with plant medicine and doing my podcast regularly, I’d developed a persona as a “regular guy who happened to use psychedelics.” I prided myself on being really “normal,” but interiorly, I was slowly coming to terms with the fact that my authentic gender is not cis male. As much as I wanted to keep up my well crafted boring exterior, it was not to be.
Psychedelic plants drive me to radical honesty in all areas of my life and after a really challenging mushroom experience late last year, I could no longer hide the fact that I’m nonbinary and most honesty expressing that when I’m wearing more feminine clothing. Rather than showing that you can be normal and take psychedelics, I realize now that I’m being called to redefine “normal” more fully, to be an example that all families matter, no matter their shape or flavor.
What are your biggest fears for you and your kids about being an openly psychedelic father?
It’s back to bad information fueling decisions of people having power over us.
The reality is that I live in a state that has taken children away from people who are legally using cannabis under the state marijuana law. Child Protective Services has taken children away for legally growing cannabis in their house and parents lose their kids for six months. I have to be cognizant of those possibilities.
But for me, I wouldn’t be the person I am or the person I love being if it wasn’t for these experiences. For example, eating mushrooms is one of the most important spiritual things that I do and I can’t not share about that experience with my kids. It animates who I am. And not only my own experiences but the beautiful things I’ve seen in the lives of people I’ve worked with. How can I not share this thing with my family that gives me so much joy?
When and how did you have the first conversations with your kids about drugs and what was that like?
While reading A Wind in the Door [the sequel to A Wrinkle in Time] to my son Joshua, a scene in the book made me start openly weeping because it reminded me of something in an ayahuasca experience. The main character, Meg, is transported into the mitochondria of her little brother’s cells. There she finds these beings symbiotic with the mitochondria who have consciousness. It’s dark because nothing there has eyes, but she could feel all the other beings moving around in the dark and communicating with her telepathically. The adult ones are singing a beautiful hymn. She asks them what they’re singing and they say, ‘We’re singing the song of creation from the stars that hang in the sky.’ She says, ‘I don’t understand how you can hear that if the stars are so large and you’re so tiny.’ They say ‘We know that we are in tune with the mind of God and we sing the same song as the stars.’
That just got me bawling. When I explained this all to my son, he said, ‘Oh Daddy, I can’t wait.’ Stories like that help our children to understand our experiences without doing something like dosing them at the age of six, which is quite obviously not a recommended practice. These stories give them a window into what these experiences can be like.
How do explain your psychedelic community to your children?
I want my children, as much as possible, to be a part of the psychedelic community. They’ve been with us in medicine spaces before. There’s been times when I’ve been with someone having a difficult psychedelic experience and my children came over and helped sing songs to help the person through it. They understand that we have really cool weird people that we know — and these people are into having these experiences.
I wouldn’t be the person I am or the person I love being if it wasn’t for these experiences.
My kids have seen the positive changes in me. Before I got back into psychedelics, I was an alcoholic for the better part of ten years and now they see me as a more self-actualized person. I want them to know the people that I think are valuable human beings, that this is a wide community of people, and if you have questions about these experiences and you don’t want to talk to mom and dad, these are people you can talk to.
What ideas do you have about them and the medicine as they get older and closer to an age of experimentation?
I would hope that my children understand that I am a person they can ask questions about these kinds of things. I want to present them with facts while answering their questions truthfully and without judgment. We’ve always been honest with them about why we do certain things and certain substances that we don’t do.
We try to follow the advice of Allyson Grey: you answer all the questions kids ask you with total honesty but you don’t offer them any more than what they asked for.
Because in that way, you let their questions guide the depths of your information giving. So you always know that they’re going to be ready to understand them if you wait for them to ask about it. It’s the same thing with sexuality or whatever else when it comes to raising our children around certain sensitive teachings of the adult world.
You let them know that they can always safely ask a question. And when they start asking the question, you know that it’s time to start talking about it.
What are your thoughts about the ages for these experiences considering that in the United States, a person is an adult at 18 years old but in indigenous cultures around the world, children often start using psychedelics at quite a young age?
Currently, we do not have a cultural container that is capable of holding these intense experiences for young people. If my child of 8 (which is when some children start drinking ayahuasca in the Santo Daime Church), ate some grams of mushrooms, they wouldn’t have anybody to talk to about their experience except me and their mom. They wouldn’t have any good resources.
Psychedelic parenting for me is an effort to start building that container. My hope is that when my kids have kids, there would be social infrastructure to support that. But for now, I want to listen to the wise communities that we are trying to model ourselves after.
How do you work with your partner when dealing with these issues?
Nicole and I are very much in agreement. These substances are very useful as a spiritual and therapeutic tool for adults. We recognize that there is a time when our children will potentially be ready for these experiences. She tends to play the conservative ‘voice of reason’ side while I like to get things out there. But she can make me pause and think about aspects I hadn’t considered. We’re always communicating about it. By the time our kids start asking the questions, we’ve already talked about what’s our answer. We strive to be a unified front when it comes to information.
Eating mushrooms is one of the most important spiritual things that I do and I can’t not share about that experience with my kids
One of the big challenges I hear about from people is when they have a co-parent, or perhaps an ex, who is not on board with these things. They ask, “What do I do if I’d like to introduce my child to these experiences?” That must be hard. I haven’t really experienced this and so my main answer is to fall back on radical honesty — as long as they’re not going to put you in prison for it. It’s unfortunate because much of the negativity is based on bad information about these substances.
What’s it been like coming out of the closet as a psychedelic parent? The good and the bad?
The good is that being open about my use of these substances has introduced me to some of the highest caliber people that I have the opportunity to know and allowed me to rather quickly build an intense connection with many people. Coming out — really being open — has allowed me to have amazing conversations with people in the wider psychedelic community. Who knows if I would have been able to find those others without being open?
As far as the bad experiences, not many. I haven’t really hid who I am, and there are so many people out there with so many things to say, so many I know probably don’t realize I have a podcast about this and let my kids hang around sometimes when I eat mushrooms. I’ve even told the principal at my kid’s school that I’m a drug reform advocate, that I think D.A.R.E. is a bad idea and that we need more honest conversations. And that’s gone pretty well.
I’ve actually had more negative reactions from coming out as a gender-queer person than as a psychedelic person.