🫠 Psychonaut POV

[5-min read] Q&A with Zach Leary, Facilitator & Educator

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If the name Zach Leary sounds oddly familiar, it’s probably because you’ve internalized his father’s catchphrase: "Turn on, tune in, drop out.” But these days, Timothy Leary’s son is a force of his own in the psychedelic movement.

We asked Zach what it was like being raised by a counterculture icon, what’s missing from the medical narrative surrounding psychedelics today, and how he’d modify the popular notion of set and setting.

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Zach Leary Psychonaut POV
What was it like being raised by Timothy Leary? Did you find your way to psychedelics on your own or did your dad bring his work home?

Being raised by a counterculture icon was not something I really had much self-awareness about until much later in life. When you're in the middle of it, it’s just your normal, you know? It's not until other people point it out that you start to realize, "Oh yeah, I guess that was pretty special."

When I was growing up in the 80s and 90s, psychedelics weren't really my dad's main focus anymore. He'd certainly talk about them, but he was more occupied with things like personal computing, the web, and using new technologies to alter consciousness.

It wasn't until I was around 13 or 14 that I started getting curious about my dad’s relationship with LSD. But he actually discouraged me from using psychedelics at a young age. He sat me down and told me I should wait until my brain was more developed and I had more life experience.

More than my father, it was The Grateful Dead scene that properly introduced me to psychedelics. At first, my parents weren't too happy about that. But eventually they took more of a harm reduction approach, becoming mentors and guides as I explored these substances. They really instilled in me the importance of set and setting that I had read about in The Psychedelic Experience.

So it wasn't like my dad was pushing psychedelics on me growing up. He was actually pretty cautious about it. Looking back, I'm grateful they took that approach.

Your kirtans have become a real hit. In your philosophy and practice, how do bhakti yoga and psychedelics fit together?

Bhakti yoga is really the heart and soul of all the yogas. It's the yoga of love, devotion, and service—the thread that runs through all the lineages, whether it's tantra, asana, jnana, karma, etc.

When I rediscovered bhakti yoga in my 30s through my teacher Ram Dass, I found an immediate synergistic relationship with it. It's all about joy, bliss, contentment, self-exploration, community, and mysticism, which have always been core motivations for my psychedelic use as well. The hero's journey of finding the divine, the infinite source of energy and love, has been a driving force since I was young.

But there is a key difference. Yoga is an ongoing, holistic practice for spiritual attunement and equanimity. Psychedelics, on the other hand, are episodic tools. Used in a vacuum, they can lead to simply chasing peak experiences. It’s only when you integrate them into a larger paradigm of wellness and spiritual seeking that the real complementarity arises. They can accelerate your meditation, personal practice, or search for the divine, however you define it.

As someone who’s facilitated hundreds of psychedelic therapy sessions, what’s missing from the medically focused narrative around psychedelics today?

The fundamental assumption seems to be that the psychedelic experience is primarily a psychosocial, cognitive process—something that can be neatly packaged as "psychedelic-assisted therapy." But that completely misses the mystical nature of these experiences. They transcend the purely psychological or emotional.

In conventional therapy models, there's an inherent power dynamic and authoritarian structure between the therapist and client. But in the psychedelic context, that dynamic needs to be flipped. The facilitator should be more of a neutral conduit. Their role is to create a container for the medicine to shine in its full integrity, rather than imposing their own agenda or expertise.

The person having the experience should be the true authority in the room, not the therapist. And when that foundational understanding is missing, it leads to all sorts of problematic downstream effects, like overly rigid regulatory structures, elitism around who gets access, and the creep of capitalism into a sacred space.

Now, I don't want to dismiss the benefits the medicalization model has brought. It's been instrumental in changing the minds of those outside our bubble, providing the data and research to demonstrate the incredible therapeutic potential when used correctly.

But there needs to be a reckoning, a bridging of the clinical and the mystical. The pioneers, who've approached psychedelics with reverence for millennia, and the modern medical establishment need to learn from each other. Only then can we truly optimize the benefits while honoring the transformative essence of these experiences.

Tell us about your Psychedelic Studies Intensive. Who is it for, and what would they gain from enrolling?

The Psychedelic Studies Intensive I offer provides a deep dive into a lot of the topics we've been discussing: the pros and cons of the medicalization model, the importance of honoring the mystical nature of these experiences, and the rich history and lineages we're working to uphold.

I've had a lot of therapists take the course, which I'm really proud of. It helps reset their orientation and understanding of the ethics and ground rules required when working with psychedelics. The core aim is to help people become more compassionate, effective, and safe guides.

But I've also had many participants who aren't interested in facilitation at all. They're simply drawn to my historical knowledge and perspective as someone who's witnessed the rise, fall, and resurgence of this movement. American psychedelic history has a lineage of its own that deserves to be kept alive and respected. As I see it, we are the indigenous LSD culture. I'm a firm believer that anyone engaging with psychedelics needs to deeply understand the implications of how we got to this point.

Importantly, I always stress that no single course can instantly make someone ready to guide others, especially vulnerable populations, through these profound experiences. This program is a stepping stone to finding your purpose and unique contribution to the psychedelic movement.

With your first book coming out early next year, what message are you hoping to convey?

Through my experience working in the underground, I've developed a robust knowledge base that I'm excited to share. A big focus is redefining the concept of "set and setting." I’m adding the third "S." In my framework, sustainability is about how to prepare for and set expectations around the integration process, well before the journey even begins.

So much of the early psychedelic movement has been about chasing peak experiences, without enough emphasis on what happens afterward. Integration has only recently become a core part of the discussion. But I believe sustainably bringing your psychedelic insights into daily practices and flows is critical for maximizing the long-term benefits.

For me, that looks like practicing bhakti yoga, but it could be anything—breathwork, float tanks, art, music, writing. The key is taking those revelatory moments and weaving them into your regular waking consciousness. Otherwise, our default mode network has a tendency of snapping us right back into old patterns and emotions.

Your Extraordinary Mind: Psychedelics in the 21st Century and How to Use Them is set to come out early next year through Sounds True. I'd say it's about 25% autobiographical, 25% instructional, with the rest offering commentary on the current psychedelic landscape.

The book provides practical guidance, historical context, and a holistic vision for integrating mystical experiences into one’s daily life. My hope is that it can be a valuable resource to anyone curious about working with these extraordinary medicines.

Want more from Zach?

There’s still room in the next cohort of his live Psychedelic Studies Intensive. Enroll with code TRICYCLEDAY to take $100 off.

UNTIL NEXT TIME

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DISCLAIMER: This newsletter is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice. The use, possession, and distribution of psychedelic drugs are illegal in most countries and may result in criminal prosecution.

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