Visual Artist Clare Gillen on Breaking Up with Weed to Embrace San Pedro
The creative director recently went to a San Pedro and Kambo ceremony, which required a strict pre-cleanse routine, including no weed!
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Clare Gillen is a visual artist, photographer, and creative director — a true visionary, if you ask us. Her work often mixes beauty and the grotesque, and it feels informed in equal parts by Cindy Sherman and Tim & Eric, though only in spirit. Clare has developed a visual universe that’s all her own.
The Philly-born artist is known for art directing, designing, and producing the live shows for a who’s who of iconoclastic musicians — including Rihanna, Blood Orange, Jack Antonoff, and King Princess — and she’s worked on music videos for the likes of KP (“Pussy Is God”), Lil Miquela, Lana Del Rey, and most recently Eric Wareheim’s Las Jaras Wines.
The wine spot is a great entry point to Clare’s work. In the frenetic clip, Spider-Man, Goofy, Mickey Mouse, and the Grinch get lit and spray suds on each other while T-Pain’s “Spray That Booty” soundtracks their shenanigans. The short is edited perfectly, including a montage of each mascot jumping off a hill and tripping, as well as a moment where the lyrics “It’s gonna sound like I’m pissing” lines up with a shot of Goofy pretending to let a stream rip behind a tree. Truly one for the books!
Outside of her brain-blooming portfolio, Clare is a super thoughtful person with a dedication to wellness and self-care. When asked if she’d be down for a Cash Only interview, Clare explained that she had recently taken a hiatus from weed in order to prepare for a San Pedro and Kambo retreat. For the unfamiliar, San Pedro is a psychedelic cactus that’s been utilized for self-healing and religious rites for thousands of years. Kambo, on the other hand, is a purge that involves skin secretions from the kambo frog that get burnt into your skin.
As a regular toker and “Philly Cheesesteak girl,” the ceremony’s required pre-cleanse presented an opportunity for Clare to embrace some lifestyle adjustments, including changes to her diet and the aforementioned weed break. We thought this was interesting and wanted to learn more about other takeaways she gleaned from the unique psychedelic experience. So, instead of our 420 Recs series, Cash Only wanted to present a conversation with Clare about the San Pedro / Kambo retreat.
Below, the artist discusses how she changed her consumption habits prior to the ceremony, what actually went down there, and how it’s influenced her day-to-day life since. Inspiring stuff from an inspiring person. Thanks Clare!!
So you recently did a cleanse to prepare for a San Pedro ceremony. What did it entail?
Clare Gillen: My friend invited me to this San Pedro ceremony in Connecticut, and it also included a Kambo ceremony the next day. I had to prep for it, so you don’t drink alcohol, you can only eat pretty much vegan food — and then no coffee, no sex, and you don’t consume THC (specifically for the Kambo).
I was smoking weed pretty regularly before, but I wanted this plant medicine experience to be life changing in a fundamental health way. I did the ceremony a couple weeks ago, and I haven’t smoked since, with the exception of one Saturday night when I hit a delicious joint. Other than that, I haven’t been using weed at all and I’m off coffee, too. This is the first time in my life I’m off coffee, so it’s a huge deal for me. I’ve been eating pretty close to vegan, which is also a huge deal to me because I’m a Philly Cheesesteak girl at heart.
How long do you have to do the cleansing routine before the ceremony?
They suggest a week, but some start only three or four days out. You want to be pretty clean for it. I transitioned to green tea and said my goodbye to weed with a fat joint that I shared with some friends. I was excited to jump into this new chapter. It’s really weird, dude. I never felt like I had a reason to stop smoking, but this was a reason. It’s been really inspiring because it works. I have no real desire to smoke now, and I think something changed with my mental addiction to it.
Can you tell me more about what went down at the retreat?
So we got there on Friday, did some yoga, and then had a vegan dinner where we got to know everyone and talked about San Pedro. The next day we woke up, did some Pranayama (breathwork), and then we drank the San Pedro. We did some mantras, did some singing, and then made super cozy spots for ourselves outside in a big circle around an altar.
I realized it was the first time I’ve taken psychedelics with the intention of doing literally nothing. I’ve obviously taken psychedelics with friends where we sort of did nothing, but you’re still expected to make jokes or talk to each other or report on how you’re feeling. You often want to make it an adventure, right? But this was the opposite. It was like, “Let’s do nothing and literally just lay and process.” You can cry if you want to, listen to songs if you want to, go on a walk, etc. But I really just laid around.
How did the San Pedro make you feel?
The San Pedro felt really, really mild and positive. Not everyone there had positive experiences, and everyone came to it with different stuff they were going through, but I just felt really integrated with the Earth. And it weirdly made me horny. It made me want to be in touch with my body more and eat more plants. The night ended with us around the fire and we came down and played music and ate. It was amazing. The next day we did the Kambo. For that, you don’t eat, but you chug a gallon of water, meditate, and then they burn the poison into your arm. I still have a couple dots on me.
The San Pedro high was so clean that I felt like I could have gone to work or driven a car. It wasn’t as heavy as ayahuasca is. It was very, very body. And San Pedro is known as “the grandfather,” whereas ayahuasca is known as “the grandmother.” You’re gonna hear it from your grandmother — grandma is prone to drop a bomb in your face, right? But grandfather is a little more passive about it. That’s the gendered connotation.
I definitely was tripping and was aware of that. Acid can sometimes feel chemical-y, and mushrooms can be overwhelming, especially visually, and they can also feel a little swampy. But San Pedro felt very clean and very supportive. Plus, I was in a really good and grounded place when I went into it. I had been prepping with yoga, plus the diet integration stuff. I was just ready to receive what it had to give.
How did the Kambo experience compare to the San Pedro?
Kambo is not psychedelic. Kambo is just a poison [laughs]. It’s over very fast. And, I’m not going to lie, I was very afraid of it. From what I had read, I thought it would be very heavy and intensely scary on a physical level. I thought I’d almost be in pain because the poison hits you immediately. But I’d also read that it can feel euphoric. And when I took it, I felt the heat rising and the poison flowing through my body. I felt my face getting hot. But I didn’t feel afraid. And the woman leading the ceremony told me, “Be brave. The medicine likes when you’re brave.” Interestingly, Kambo was used for centuries by hunters so they could have super clear, unanxious minds.
I started with five dots and I was not purging. I was chilling, breathing, feeling it. I knew I needed more because ultimately you want to purge, right? It’s good to purge, they say. Then I was given two more dots, and I hate throwing up, so that was a little weird for me. It ended up being amazing because after you feel very clean and really renewed. It’s supposed to reset your body from a molecular level, and take toxins out. After the Kambo, we did this healing session that was like a sound bath and they did acupuncture and cupping on us. It was fucking amazing, bro [laughs].
Were you told to continue any practices after leaving the retreat?
A lot of what was talked about was to notice integration. I’m now on this new age tip where I’m convinced you can manifest stuff and there’s this psychic energy to tap into. My friend was telling me about this French concept called dérive that’s like an intuitive wandering method. During the industrial revolution, some people thought everything was too planned and we needed to be more random and intuitive. So they’d go walking intuitively and see where that led them.
I embraced that idea yesterday with the intention to run into someone specific. I knew they hung out at this park, and I thought I’d wander my way there, but then three blocks down from where I started, not even near where they live, I ran into them. Funny, right? That’s fucking cool to me. I think most plant medicine is heart opening, and our hearts have an intelligence that we don’t necessarily follow. I feel like I’m more open to listening to what my heart says now. People keep asking me, “Did you have any breakthroughs on San Pedro?” And I’m like, “My breakthrough was to eat clean and to lead with my heart” [laughs].
So this is a tangent, but you said the San Pedro made you horny. Do you think human sexuality is more influenced by the heart than the brain?
Wow. That’s such a good question. I know my brain was in charge for a long time because of how it was primed growing up, from things like porn or even the idea or construct of a romantic fantasy. Especially for women, sexuality can often be intellectual and less body-related. As I grow into a woman there’s something about tapping into the next level. And the next level for me is that there is a path towards heart energy — even Kundalini energy. I want to explore that connection.
Now that the ceremony has passed, do you want to continue this new relationship with what you put in your body, like food and weed?
I hope it lasts. Oh, I have a funny story that shows how strong the lifestyle change was. On Saturday, after I was back from the ceremony, I went to brunch at the Butcher’s Daughter and ate pancakes. After eating, I walked around for a little, and I was like, “Oh, no… I need to lay down. I feel terrible.” So I went home to rest, and kept waking up and was like, “I feel so bad. I have COVID. This is terrible.” It legit felt like when I actually had COVID and it came out of nowhere.
Then I woke up a few hours later and felt completely fine. I realized I didn’t have COVID, I had just eaten pancakes! But I felt ill! Probably because I hadn’t had that much sugar in a while. The meal geeked me out. I have always eaten whatever I want, since forever, and I had a similar relationship with weed. The pre-ceremony cleanse made me super sensitive.
How else did the San Pedro make you reconsider your relationship with weed?
I think for a lot of regular weed smokers, there is this mental addiction that grows. I think we often reach for weed as a crutch, but what we really need is to move our bodies, or to move some energy around. I also have been curious about something I recently read regarding pleasure and pain. We are over-pleasured as a society, which is actually more anxiety-inducing and makes us less happy. Our brains really like the homeostasis of pain mixed in with pleasure. But in our culture, we don’t have enough pain, we don’t force ourselves to run up the hill, we don’t force ourselves to sit with pain and grieve. Instead, we reach for the bong.
The quick-fix solution is less effective long-term, and it makes our brains freak out. Our brains want equilibrium and homeostasis — pain and pleasure. So for me, being like, “I’m not going to get that sugary drink” like I usually would, and instead having a tea… even something as subtle as that is good for my brain. It’s good not to give your brain that immediate reward. I think it builds this muscle of discipline, too.
What will your relationship with weed be like going forward?
I think for a while now, I’ve been grappling with the fact that if weed is handed to me, I hit it without thinking. I started smoking like 15 years ago, and I never really stopped because I loved it. And in LA, it’s everywhere. But going forward, I want to be more intentional with my use. I want to feel who I am raw, without any of this stuff. I want to strengthen my mind to be like, “Can I escape from this rat race or this gnarly world we live in through my own means and strengthened connections to myself, to my heart, to my truth?” It feels like shit, but I think it’s more commendable. Weed has always been a positive thing in my life, and I don’t think it will totally disappear, but I’m really happy to have this reset.
Any last thoughts you want to add?
Yes, to conclude, weed has had such a positive impact on my life. My creative growth is closely tied to it. So shout-out weed, love you girl, thanks for everything, but our relationship is going to change a little. These things shouldn’t be so high-contrast and black and white. I think maturity is all about integration and really being in touch with yourself and what’s serving you in the moment and what’s not. And right now, I know what’s working for me.