I’m writing (and posting) this at an altitude upwards of 30,000 feet. I’m on a San Francisco-bound Alaska Airlines flight. As I drove to JFK this morning, on a phone call with my wife (who had flown home to California two days earlier, also on Alaska), she gave me first tidings of the attempted sabotage of another San Francisco bound Alaska flight. This was on the same day as her own return to SFO.

It was only as I was in the air myself that I read the latest updates to the story: that the actor was an off-duty pilot, riding in the cockpit jump seat, reported having recently dosed with psychedelic mushrooms and been awake for the last 40 hours.

My heart sank, particularly as I first read it thiniing he had been actively tripping when he attempted to shut down the fuel supply to the engines, which almost resulted in an unrecoverable loss of power.

Shades of the Donvan/Jefferson Airplane song, The Fat Angel.

What the details of his story will turn out to be remain to be seen; he was apparently aware that he was in a bad way as soon as he had been subdued. One has to suppose that he presented normally to his fellow pilots when he boarded.

The cold fact remains: it is possible for someone to ingest a dose of psychedelics, either casually or with sincere intentions, and find that they have gotten on to the elevator and failed to return to the ground floor at the appointed time. That is, coming down when the substance itself is presumed to have fully metabolized. Instead, a manic state was triggered, and a self-sustaining psychotic process is activated, the most telling and disturbing characteristic of which is the inability to sleep.

Apart from the legal and pilot training, certification, and review questions this incident will motivate, it will surely resonate among those who are in positions to either advance or impede the trend of decriminalization or legalization of psychedelics.
It is unclear what setting the psychedelics were consumed in — he reported having been depressed, suggesting that his intention had been in some way therapeutic.

Regardless of what else ripples out from this incident, it triple underscores the need for proper recovery and integration in the wake of the psychedelic encounter. At a minimum, it suggests the presence of “safeties” — persons who are sympathetic, aware, and available to monitor the status of the individual returning from a psychedelic encounter. Whether these are professionals or simply experienced friends, responsible psychedelic use needs to include such individuals in the recreational, therapeutic, or spiritual containers. Especially in cases where the possibility that a psychedelic dose may be more intense than perhaps even an “experienced” individual was anticipating.

Inability to sleep that extends past the 24-hour period from having fully metabolized the agent should, perhaps invariably, be pharmaceutically addressed.