Psychedelic Experience


The term ‘psychedelic experience‘ is vague – characterized by polyvalence or ambiguity due to its nature – however in modern psychopharmacological science as well as philosophical, psychological, neurological, spiritual-religious and most other ideological discourses it is understood as an altered state of awareness often distinct to, and induced by the consumption of certain psychotropics.

In particular hallucinogens, many entheogens and specifically psychedelic compounds are known to cause this change in mental state.

In essence a psychedelic episode is, like other ontological notions of unique states of being (compare ‘enlightenment,’ religious experience, mystical experience, ego death, ecstasy, etc.) considered ineffable and rather a solely experiential phenomenon. However on some level the experience is communicable through more conrete or familiar effects on the senses: it has variously been characterized by the perception of aspects of one’s mind usually believed to be unavailable to ordinary, waking consciousness, normally by the creative exuberance of the mind liberated from its ordinary restraints, or products of artificially-induced chemical imbalances in the human nervous system. Psychedelic states are one of the stations on the spectrum of experiences elicited by sensory deprivation as well. On that same spectrum will be found illusions, delusions, changes of perception, and hallucinations in general – whether associated with a mental disorder, psychoactive drugs, etc.

Reportedly there is a common theme of ‘connectedness’ or ‘unboundedness’ which seems unique to many transcendent states of mind, and no less by the state of psychedelia – ranging from a sense of connectedness to everything in the immediate vicinity, to a sense of oneness with everything in the universe. This phenomenon can be juxtaposed with various metaphysical, spiritual and religious concepts such as monad, gnosis, henosis, kenosis, transcendence, the ‘Absolute’ or the penultimate of self-actualization or authentication, or even theosis in Western thought – as well as rigpa or mahamudra, nirvana, cosmic consciousness, moksha, sunyata, dharmakaya, dharmata, etc. in Eastern.

Some who undertake psychedelic experiences come to see them as an ordeal, and mentally overbearing – in which case the result is often known as a ‘bad trip’ or psychedelic crisis, closely linked to the psychological turmoil of panic attacks, depersonalization/derealization, hysteria and dysphoria. For others, such experiences come to be seen as personal re-enactments of a hero’s journey. Spiritual practices and psychedelic drugs are the usual context when discussing means to achieve states of mind in which novel perceptions can arise, unhindered by everyday mental filters and processes.

Research that was done during the 1960s suggested that psychedelic drugs might have medical uses. More recently, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), the Heffter Research Institute, and the Beckley Foundation have continued studying the effects of the psychedelic experience.

The Erowid Psychoactive Vault discuss Psychedelic Experience in an FAQ that provides a partial overview of ideas expressed in Timothy Leary’s book ‘The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead.’ They classified five levels of psychedelic experience:

Level 1: This level produces a mild ‘stoning’ effect, with some visual enhancement (e.g. brighter colors) Some short term memory anomalies. Left and right brain communication changes causing music to sound ‘wider.’ Can be achieved with moderate to high doses of cannabis or low doses of psilocybin.

Level 2: Bright colors, and visuals (i.e., things start to move and breathe) some two-dimensional patterns become apparent upon shutting one’s eyes. Confused or reminiscent thoughts. Change of short term memory leads to continual distracting thought patterns. Vast increase in abstract thought becomes apparent as the natural brain filter is bypassed. Can be achieved with very high doses of cannabis, small doses of psilocybin, mescaline, or LSD as well as regular doses of MDMA.

Level 3: Very obvious visuals, everything looking curved or warped patterns and kaleidoscopes seen on walls, faces etc. Some mild hallucinations such as rivers flowing in wood grained or ‘mother of pearl’ surfaces. Closed eye hallucinations become 3 dimensional. There is some confusion of the senses (e.g., seeing sounds as colors). Time distortions and ‘moments of eternity.’ Body movement becomes difficult and disorienting.

There is a heightened sense of awareness of one’s own feelings and drive. People who reach level 3 usually report it as thought provoking and life changing. For some people who reach level 3, their ability to discern is somewhat thrown off. People who reach level 3 and higher are more likely to respond to suggestive stimuli. At such a level it is recommended that there be a sitter to watch over the tripper just in case he/she would do something that could be a potential hazard. Can be achieved with normal doses of psilocybin, mescaline, or LSD.

This level is characterized by strong hallucinations, such as objects morphing into other objects. There are many subtypes of these hallucinations: Mandelbrot patterns, spirals, wave interference patterns, and so on. Also characteristic is the destruction or division of the ego. Things may start talking to you, or you find that you are feeling contradictory things simultaneously. Some loss of reality is prevalent. Time becomes meaningless. Out of body experiences and extra-sensory perception type phenomena are common, as is a blending of the senses. Visuals containing imagery from Hindu, Aztec, Mayan, Native American, Indian and African cultures are also quite common.

Level 5: Effects are exclusively attributed to serotonergic psychedelic tryptamines, such as N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT), 4-phosphoryloxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine (psilocybin) and 5-methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine (5-MeO-DMT). Experiences include total loss of visual connection with reality, the sense of not being human or having a body, and the feeling of being in many places at the same time. The loss of reality is so extreme that it becomes ineffable. People have been reported seeing themselves in entirely different settings than their original setting, and many people experience the feeling of being in a simulated reality; often computer simulated. Religious phenomenon is reported at this level; often mentioned is a connection to an ‘all-knowing presence’ or a ‘universal knowledge,’ which many equate with extra-terrestrials, artificial intelligence, God, love, or ‘enlightenment.’ Users commonly report:

Being clearly thrust into outer-space at extreme speed. Being thrust into an expansive void-like alternate dimension consisting of bright colorful fast moving kaleidoscopic environments, dynamic pulsating colored beams, as well as complex three dimensional geometric, mathematical, and linguistic patterns made of light. Continually traveling at great speeds, while watching patterns fly by morph, open, and reveal more complex patterns within. Encountering different types of living beings and superintelligent body-less entities. These reports include contact with free-floating entities made of light resembling giant spheres, humanoids, multiple types of unrecognizable insects, human-sized praying mantises, elves, cephalopods, complex robotic machines, and plants.

Also, intelligent beings attempting to communicate with users via visual linguistics, mathematics, morphing colored diamonds of different textures (flesh, gold, liquid metal, colored light). People report beings/entities manipulating what they can see and view; intentionally propelling them in different directions at disorienting speeds, forcing them to view or pass directly through macro and microscopic scale settings including: planetary systems, galaxies, quasars, natural environments, space habitats, technological utopias, neurons, DNA, mitochondria, trilobites, cephalopods, bryozoa and artificial self-replicating machines.

Most users report similar auditory patterns, of a combined high frequency whine, and a slow deep throbbing tone similar to a heart beat. Most DMT users report feeling psychologically uninhibited, clear headed while experiencing peak effects, and able to maintain the ability to think and reason in the above circumstances. Most users of Serotonergic Tryptamines have reported level 5 experiences, at normal, or common dosages, while users of lysergamides, ergolines, amphetamines, empathogens, and opioids never experience level 5 effects.

Aldous Huxley talks in his book ‘The Doors of Perception’ about the ‘Mind at Large.’ This is Huxley’s theoretical state of mind which humans are normally oblivious to, due to learned social norms and partially due to their biology. Huxley believed that the central nervous system’s main function was to filter through irrelevancies and useless knowledge, by shutting out the majority of what we could actually perceive at any given point in time.

Through the pages of his book, Huxley talks about the business of survival, and the information that is the most useful for survival. He believed that this was one element which was forcing the brain to filter out these perceptions. Huxley also believed that man was partially responsible for it, by asserting that society has made a symbolic system which structures our reality, in order to achieve a ‘reduced awareness.’

Aldous Huxley discusses thousands of other worlds that were in some sense interconnected with our own. He said that humans dynamically make contact with these other worlds, all of which are with the ‘Mind at Large.’ He believed that there were multiple ways of contacting these other worlds such as genetics, hypnosis, and the use of psychedelic drugs.

He then summarizes the psychedelic experience for himself, using the four statements below:

‘The ability to remember and to ‘think straight’ is little if at all reduced. Listening to the recordings of my conversation under the influence of the drug, I cannot discover that I was then any stupider than I am at ordinary times.’

‘Visual impressions are greatly intensified and the eye recovers some of the perceptual innocence of childhood, when the sensum was not immediately and automatically subordinated to the concept. Interest in space is diminished and interest in time falls almost to zero.’

‘Though the intellect remains unimpaired and though perception is enormously improved, the will suffers a profound change for the worse. The mescaline taker sees no reason for doing anything in particular and finds most of the causes for which, at ordinary times, he was prepared to act and suffer, profoundly uninteresting. He can’t be bothered with them, for the good reason that he has better things to think about.’

‘These better things may be experienced (as I experienced them) ‘out there,’ or ‘in here,’ or in both worlds, the inner and the outer, simultaneously or successively. That they are better seems to be self-evident to all mescaline takers who come to the drug with a sound liver and an untroubled mind.’

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