Psychedelic Drugs: Hallucinations or Hightened Consciousness
This debate is as old as the hills, but let’s explore it anyway. It’s a fun and fascinating topic, wouldn’t you say?
The question is, while under the influence of a mind altering substance, particularly mushrooms, Peyote, and for the purpose of this post MDMA (Ecstasy), is it more likely to have a genuine paranormal experience, or is the altered state of consciousness responsible for these otherworldly encounters?
Let’s do this by going through each of the above mentioned drugs, talk about the common effects, and then reflect on some paranormal claims made by those under the influence of the drug. I’ll try my best not to sound like an old hippie as I write this 😉
“Magic” mushrooms are fungi known for their psychoactive alkaloids or organic compounds such as Psilocybin, Psilocin or Muscimol. Mushrooms can be eaten or drank in a tea, and produce a powerful psychedelic trip. The effects of the trip depend greatly on the current mood of the individual taking the ‘shrooms. The trip is generally shorter than that produced by acid, but many claim that a mushroom trip feels more natural. Mushroom trips are about heightened sensory experiences. Colors are brighter, sounds are more melodic, and many users classify their trip as spiritual. That said, a bad mushroom trip can be a 9 hour journey through hell, bringing all of your worst nightmares into vivid reality. Users warn that it is important to insure that you are in a clear and upbeat state of mind prior to ingesting mushrooms.
Shaman and medicine men have been using mushrooms for millenia and beyond. Early cave drawings feature pictures of what are clearly magic mushrooms, and ceremonial ingestion has always been common. Visions and mystical otherworldly journeys are the sought after result of spiritual mushroom usage, and some claim that it can unlock doors to other dimensions and unseen realities. Even today, people claim that they have experienced heightened ESP and anomolous encounters while under the influence. A great place to read about personal paranormal experiences related to mushroom usage can be found here: umi dissertation search and that site
I recently received a great DVD set from a friend of a show from the late 50’s early 60’s called One Step Beyond. It was a TV show that aired 96 episodes featuring real stories of psychic and paranormal phenomena. One of the great episodes was “The Sacred Mushroom,” which aired on January 4, 1961. I was excited to see that someone uploaded it, so I can share it with all of you.
Sometimes known as “The Divine Cactus”, Peyote (Lophophora williamsii) is a small, spineless cactus native to Texas and Mexico. Known for it’s psychoactive alkaloids, primarily mescaline, Peyote perhaps more than any other drug is used for it’s spiritual and transcendent qualities. The effects of peyote can last 10 to 12 hours, and create deep trance-like experiences, which is likely why indigenous people of the Southern U.S. and Mexico were known to use it in ceremonial activities (some still do).
Today, Peyote is sometimes used recreationally, but largely retains it’s reputation for being a spiritual gateway. There is even a movement of churches that have sprung up around the use of Peyote. One example is The Peyote Way Church, whose web site can be viewed here: http://www.peyoteway.org/
Watch this fascinating documentary about the use of peyote and persecution of members within the Native American community.
This may seem like a strange choice for this list, but I am completey intrigued by some of the lesser claims by those who’ve used this drug. MDMA or Ecstasy, is a psychedelic amphetamine known to produce strong feelings of comfort, empathy, and connection to others. Although there have been reports of the negative MDMA experience, users generally claim that they receive and overwhelming feeling that everything is “right” with the world. The drug is known to heighten sexual feelings, as well as feelings of love and affection.
The paranormal or heightened consciousness aspect of Ecstasy that has me so fascinated are the claims by some that it can open up access to or awaken Kundalini. According to Erowid.org:
Kundalini is an evolutionary energy reportedly lying dormant in the perineum, and is often symbolized as a sleeping serpent, coiled silently in the root chakra at the base of the spine. The name ‘Kundalini’ is used specifically in Hindu and Buddhist Tantric tradition, but the energy of which it speaks has manifested in many different forms in different cultures throughout the globe….
….This energy, when lying dormant, is responsible for all the unconscious processes in the human body: eating, sex, desire, respiratory function, etc. When consciously awakened and risen up the sushumna nadi (energy channel) through the successive chakras, various powers or ‘siddhis’ are awakened, including creativity, productivity, reduced need for sleep, heightened intuition, various abilities that could be called psychic, healing powers, greater intelligence, increased sports performance, incredible states of bliss, and so on.
Many of the effects of MDMA mimic the awakening of the Kundalini, and some even claim that it is a gateway to this higher state of bliss. Not merely a chemical experience, but a metaphysical one. One such experience is related here: http://ecstasy.org/experiences/trip74.html
With the above information, we’re likely no closer to a consensus about whether or not drugs can enhance the paranormal or transcendent experience, or if they simply mimic such feelings and encounters. It is worth consideration however, and I’d love to hear your thoughts.