Hallucinogens

Greg Z, modified 11 Years ago.

Hallucinogens

Posts: 11 Join Date: 9/23/09 Recent Posts
Check out this this article in the Times today:

Scientists are taking a new look at hallucinogens . . After taking the hallucinogen, Dr. Martin put on an eye mask and headphones, and lay on a couch listening to classical music as he contemplated the universe.

"All of a sudden, everything familiar started evaporating," he recalled. "Imagine you fall off a boat out in the open ocean, and you turn around, and the boat is gone. And then the water's gone. And then you're gone."

Today, more than a year later, Dr. Martin credits that six-hour experience with helping him overcome his depression and profoundly transforming his relationships with his daughter and friends. He ranks it among the most meaningful events of his life, which makes him a fairly typical member of a growing club of experimental subjects.

. . .Dr. Martin's experience is fairly typical, Dr. Griffiths said: an improved outlook on life after an experience in which the boundaries between the self and others disappear.

Scientists are especially intrigued by the similarities between hallucinogenic experiences and the life-changing revelations reported throughout history by religious mystics and those who meditate . . . In interviews, Dr. Martin and other subjects described their egos and bodies vanishing as they felt part of some larger state of consciousness in which their personal worries and insecurities vanished. They found themselves reviewing past relationships with lovers and relatives with a new sense of empathy.

"It was a whole personality shift for me," Dr. Martin said. "I wasn't any longer attached to my performance and trying to control things. I could see that the really good things in life will happen if you just show up and share your natural enthusiasms with people. You have a feeling of attunement with other people."



Dan writes:

Lastly, there are some who will try to mix mind-altering substances and meditation. This can seem like an easy and fast path. In fact, there are countless traditions that use these as an integral part of their path. However, there are numerous strong warnings against doing this at all or against doing this without the guidance of those that really know what they are doing and when not in the proper setting (e.g. far out in the desert with no one around except a friend to keep you safe and no big cliffs or weapons nearby). I have found that simply doing really consistent insight or concentration practices well can quickly produce altered states and strange experiences that have taken me to the very brink of what I could handle skillfully and sometimes beyond, many of which I will discuss in Part III, so I don’t see the need for using mind altering substances. Further, there are reasons to learn to see things from different points of view on our own power so that these things may become a part of who and what we are rather than some transient side effect brought on by tinkering with our neurochemistry.

It seems to me that under the right circumstances, certain substances really can be a path to insight. Of course, I know this is a longstanding debate. What do people think?
Trent H., modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Hallucinogens

Posts: 361 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Greg Z:
It seems to me that under the right circumstances, certain substances really can be a path to insight. Of course, I know this is a longstanding debate. What do people think?


Hi,

Psychotropic substances such as THC, Psilocybin, and LSD (to name a few) can produce interesting shifts in one's perception by altering the brain's biochemical composition. Because these alter the brain's function itself, psychotropic substances can produce a wide variety (no effect to startling effects) of changes (some long term, some short term) to the various faculties of the mind, which can roughly broken down into: the intellect, the affective, and sense perception.

Each "trip" will generally alter one or more of these three at any given time during the duration of the chemical's effective duration. There may be a session where the affective faculties (imagination, intuition, emotion, etc) are highly influenced and thus typically fit the description of many "spiritual" insights. Spiritual insights are very similar to these (or are the same), because spiritual insight is also highly affective in nature; dealing with one's "soul," or "psyche," (imagination, intuition, emotion, etc). Some sessions may yield changes which bring one's focus to the senses, allowing the affective faculties to recede into the background, which also can bring about experiences that show one something new about the world. Some sessions may be intellectual in nature, where one is focused on thinking about something in a rational way that may also ignore one's otherwise self-interested line of thought (the ignorance of self interest is often a byproduct of these substances). In these instances, a person could simply solve a "mundane" problem, or it could lead to breakthroughs in other areas of one's consciousness. Often, all three of these are happening at various times during one's intoxication, or even at the same time.

Which faculty is influenced is often highly subject to the user's current preoccupations, recent influences, emotional moods, and general intentions. So if a person has been reading about Buddhism and contemplating their life decides to partake in a mind-altering drug, they might wind up experiencing something they decide fits the descriptions of what they were reading, and hey bingo, another spiritual seeker is born. This creates a general fallacy: that of incorrect interpretation due to lacking informational resources. In other words, if you only know of one explanation for what you've experienced, you'll likely use that as the explanation for your experience, because you have no other way of representing it. And from there, the first interpretation serves as an anchor for the rest of one's pursuits regardless of the validity of the initial interpretation. (This is, essentially, what has allowed ridiculous mystical interpretations of certain experiential-events to have been passed down for thousands of years without much question).

Thus, a drug trip experience may not be spiritual insight (though it might fall into the "spiritual" classification, depending on the event), but might seem to be that way because it's the only description a person has found that sounds similar to their experience. (Note that non-spiritual descriptions of other-wise spiritually labeled experiences are extremely rare, meaning this error probably happens a great deal). Also bare in mind that many spiritual insights, even if correctly "diagnosed," may also be load of crapola in terms of practical wisdom into matters concerning one's own life. Quite a predicament, eh?

Notice that I am not drawing a hard line / demonstrating a strict stance on this topic, but instead I am saying that interpretation in general is severely erroneous. And so, the entire topic ("... [perhaps] certain substances really can be a path to insight") becomes null since the premise of "what is and is not insight" is not clearly defined (nor can it be defined strictly enough, given the context, to serve as a premise for such a discussion). The practical importance of this is to say that one would likely find it beneficial not to worry about "getting some insights" (whatever those may be)-- drug induced or sober-- but perhaps should instead focus on what will lead one to experiencing a happy and harmless life, regardless of what everyone else is squawking about.

With that said, some specific knowledge-- some of which is often labeled as being "spiritual"-- can be very useful in this endeavor of being happy and harmless, and sometimes arriving at these realizations (and thus also the knowledge derived from the realizations) can be aided by a direct chemical alteration of the mind via a psychotropic substance. That is to say, quite simply, that the chemical alteration allows (or supplements the ability for) a person to temporarily experience a new perspective, which can help them to figure out something potentially useful, which can then carry over to (or fundamentally alter) their sober life.

Regards,
Trent
Greg Z, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Hallucinogens

Posts: 11 Join Date: 9/23/09 Recent Posts
Trent H.:
Greg Z:
It seems to me that under the right circumstances, certain substances really can be a path to insight. Of course, I know this is a longstanding debate. What do people think?


Hi,

Which faculty is influenced is often highly subject to the user's current preoccupations, recent influences, emotional moods, and general intentions. So if a person has been reading about Buddhism and contemplating their life decides to partake in a mind-altering drug, they might wind up experiencing something they decide fits the descriptions of what they were reading, and hey bingo, another spiritual seeker is born. This creates a general fallacy: that of incorrect interpretation due to lacking informational resources. In other words, if you only know of one explanation for what you've experienced, you'll likely use that as the explanation for your experience, because you have no other way of representing it. And from there, the first interpretation serves as an anchor for the rest of one's pursuits regardless of the validity of the initial interpretation. (This is, essentially, what has allowed ridiculous mystical interpretations of certain experiential-events to have been passed down for thousands of years without much question).

Thus, a drug trip experience may not be spiritual insight (though it might fall into the "spiritual" classification, depending on the event), but might seem to be that way because it's the only description a person has found that sounds similar to their experience. (Note that non-spiritual descriptions of other-wise spiritually labeled experiences are extremely rare, meaning this error probably happens a great deal). Also bare in mind that many spiritual insights, even if correctly "diagnosed," may also be load of crapola in terms of practical wisdom into matters concerning one's own life. Quite a predicament, eh?

Trent


I don't necessarily disagree with any of these points in general, but don't think this analysis applies in this case, because it seems we are not dealing with people interested in Buddhism or "spirituality" in general, particularly.
Cam cam Cam, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Hallucinogens

Posts: 946 Join Date: 3/9/10 Recent Posts
More and more I'm starting to realise that meditation is something that comes naturally and easily once the lower chakras are satisfied, numbered below.

I reckon if a person has really good self esteem (3rd), has enough money for all the needs and wants (1st), has plenty of fun (3rd, 4th), a great relationship (4th, 1st) and close friends (4th), then one just naturally starts to enjoy quieting the mind, or observing it or staying with one object (6th, 7th). Without retreats, without formal "this is when I sit for an hour every day" and without resolving to suffer great hardships in practice.

So to that end, drugs shouldn't be necessary. It should be easy and fun and natural. That's how I see it.

For me, my thing is to "first and foremost, be a good animal" (Emerson) and look after my lower chakra needs. I reckon if I start meditating too much without that, problems can occur, like extended dark nights, flipping out, getting lost etc.

That's my current position. I may change! I tend to, daily!
thumbnail
Daniel M. Ingram, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Hallucinogens

Posts: 3199 Join Date: 4/20/09 Recent Posts
I know a reasonable number of people who crossed the A&P for the first time on hallucinogens, mostly LSD, mushrooms and mescaline, and during those experiences gained powerful insights that helped guide them later in life, and a number came to insight practices through those experiences, and a number ended up becoming very accomplished teachers. Of those I know who became accomplished teachers, none now do hallucinogens.

I know a very large number of people who took hallucinogens and didn't have deep insights, but had some mix of fun, strange experiences, bad trips, trouble, and a few who had real short-term and long-term damage in various ways, such as the guy who walked in on his girlfriend cheating on him while he was tripping hard on LSD and killed the guy, landing him in jail for 20 years, or the guy I knew in junior high who dropped acid for the first time and came down about 3 months later and was never the same. These devastating outcomes are obviously relatively rare in comparison to the zillions of doses of whatever that have been taken, but they definitely occur, and are worth remembering.

One of my more seasoned and adventurous psychonaut friends finally decided, "It is like trying to fix a switch watch with a sledgehammer," but opinions obviously vary.
Greg Z, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Hallucinogens

Posts: 11 Join Date: 9/23/09 Recent Posts
Daniel M. Ingram:

I know a very large number of people who took hallucinogens and didn't have deep insights, but had some mix of fun, strange experiences, bad trips, trouble, and a few who had real short-term and long-term damage in various ways, such as the guy who walked in on his girlfriend cheating on him while he was tripping hard on LSD and killed the guy, landing him in jail for 20 years, or the guy I knew in junior high who dropped acid for the first time and came down about 3 months later and was never the same. These devastating outcomes are obviously relatively rare in comparison to the zillions of doses of whatever that have been taken, but they definitely occur, and are worth remembering.

One of my more seasoned and adventurous psychonaut friends finally decided, "It is like trying to fix a switch watch with a sledgehammer," but opinions obviously vary.


It seems to me that the encouraging thing about the kind of study described is exactly that the participants' experience takes place in a safe, comfortable environment. And it's dealing with psilocybin, which generally seems to lead to fewer bad experiences.

I was never a big user of shrooms or LSD--what little consumption I did came over the course of a couple of months, and this was about fifteen years ago. I was not particularly interested in Buddhism until that point, but those experiences were part of what sparked my subsequent interest. I'm not sure anything else could have shocked me out of my complacency and made me realize how much of my experience I was entirely oblivious to. I suppose I "got the message and hung up the phone," as Alan Watts would have it (or whoever it was that said that). But I don't think the possibilities for the integration of certain substances under certain circumstances with the path have been entirely explored (and probably won't be until the legality of it is established).
J Adam G, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Hallucinogens

Posts: 286 Join Date: 9/15/09 Recent Posts
This will be rather personal because I don't have nearly the experience of, say, Daniel or Trent to speak generally about the subject. So I'll be completely upfront in relating this as a biographical description, which is sure to provoke at least some disagreement from people. I'm totally fine with that, seeing as how this is the DhO after all, and stimulating discussion is a good thing.

A DMT trip of mine seems to have provoked either the A&P event or a re-experiencing of the A&P event, and then the calming effect of the DMT afterglow or come-down resulted in a rather surprising solidification of the third vipassana jhana into a soft third shamatha jhana.

It's hard to separate physiological effects of DMT from the experience of the A&P. However, it's extremely clear to me that the following experience was the solidified third vipassana jhana, especially considering that it was followed by late Dissolution and then Fear. Given that, a reasonable alternative explanation is that DMT didn't trigger the A&P, and the third vipassana jhana showed up at the end of the trip on its own.

Now, I don't recommend that individuals use psychedelics as a part of the path because it would be irresponsible. Nothing I've ever experienced from any psychedelic has been intrinsically useful on the insight path. However, I'm a bit irresponsible, so I use psychedelics anyway, but I certainly don't expect to see anything useful for insight in a hallucination. It seems to me that one of the risk factors for developing a problem with psychedelics is the belief that what they show you is inherently "real," which I believe also applies to the visions experienced as the powers from the A&P or from concentration practices. There's nothing wrong with the visions, and they can even be useful in certain circumstances, but getting caught up in their content is usually regarded as an obstruction to insight. Or rather, a corruption of insight.

So, DMT has never done anything for me in the way of insight. A big However is that my own formal resolutions to remain equanimous, mindful, and disengaged from the content of DMT experiences has helped me greatly with maintaining that same resolve during insight meditation.

To use Kenneth's model of the jhanas (and the insight stages that lie between the four vipassana jhanas) as strata of mind, it seems to me that whatever stratum of mind that I enter into a DMT trip with is greatly multiplied. Enter in Dissolution, experience Dissolution quite strongly. (Rather fun if you solidify the pleasant A&P afterglow into the third shamatha jhana as I did -- but completely useless for insight, just the same as if someone used straight concentration abilities to solidify Dissolution into a shamatha jhana.) However, entering a DMT trip from Fear/Misery is not by any means "fun," especially if the use of harmala alkaloids extends the trip from five minutes to four hours, and the mind becomes too fogged from the harmala alkaloids to remember to stay out of the content. In other words, four hours of sitting in the content of the dark night with the amplification turned up to 10 is no fun. That trip had no inherent value other than to demonstrate the vast amount of suffering that the mind creates by attaching and clinging to content.

However, having made it through that, I wonder how much worse it could get to go through the dark night during vipassana meditation. Presumably, vipassana won't involve me oscillating back and forth through Fear, Misery, and Disgust for hours getting completely sucked into the content because of lack of mindfulness. So, in a way, I found my own value from the use of psychedelics, and that will be helpful on the insight path. But I still maintain that the DMT experience itself did not involve any insight. It's like shamatha practice -- if used in a responsible manner that increases the strength and health of the mind, those qualities could be useful when you actually do insight.

A lot of that hinges on the exact meaning of the term "responsible psychedelic use" in the more mundane, non-Insight-related sense. I don't really want to go into that right now, considering how long this post (and today's To-Do list) is. Maybe later though, if it seems relevant.

Breadcrumb