Monday, April 25, 2011

The Spirit Molecule, & Personal Thoughts on DMT

Now that it's gotten around that I'm planning on trying DMT, I've gotten some mixed reactions. One friend reports that his trip aged him fifty years, and that he regrets ever having done it. Another friend that I spoke to is planning on trying it as well, and referred me to this documentary so I could "get excited" like he was. Take a look; the full documentary is in one piece on Youtube. In it, they ask some really vital questions, like why are we wired to accept chemical experiences like this? This documentary shows how science has fused with spirituality, which is at once fascinating and unsettling. But all in all, I feel pretty honored that I'm going to get the chance to try what's got so many brilliant and creative people interested.

I'm still pretty nervous. Like most people, one of my great fears is going mad, and one of the best ways to do that is to experience something that you can't handle. I know it's irrational, and probably won't happen, but because of its entirely encompassing nature, DMT seems like the most likely chemical that could bring you to that point. So I feel like if I can pull this off, I'll be able to handle anything. It's making it a little easier on me to remember that I subject myself to that every night when I go to sleep. Dreaming is one of my deepest pleasures, because they are so strange and yet so vital to our waking mindset. Is a waking DMT trip so different? I don't know, but I'm going to tell myself it isn't.

Many people's trips had a death theme. Either I am naive and don't truly understand death, or the year I spent contemplating suicide desensitized me, but I'm not scared of death. I'm scared of pain, and I'm scared of being forgotten after I'm gone, but I have no fear of what lies in wait for us at the end of our lives. Mainly because I think it's probably just oblivion, which seems like a welcome respite, like sleep at the end of the day. So even if my trip does lean that way, I don't think I'd freak out, just be curious. On that count, I think I'm okay.

One thing that threw me off was the spiritual experiences that the interviewees reported. It seemed a unanimous part of the experience. They all talked about the entities that they saw as if they were real. I am more inclined to believe that something is a psychological phenomenon, rather than objectively true. As Hunter S. Thompson said, "All those pathetically eager acid freaks who thought they could buy Peace and Understanding for three bucks a hit. But their loss and failure is ours too. What Leary took down with him was the central illusion of a whole life-style that he helped create... a generation of permanent cripples, failed seekers, who never understood the essential old-mystic fallacy of the Acid Culture: the desperate assumption that somebody... or at least some force - is tending the light at the end of the tunnel." I'm an atheist, and I have been all my life. Though I do look to psychedelics for secular insights, and to expand how I experience the world (especially for the sake of my writing) I've never had an experience that I would describe as spiritual, and can't imagine how I would react if I did. I'm not saying that it's impossible that I could convert to some form of spiritualism. I'm interested spiritual matters, but I'll never believe in a christian Wizard in the Sky, or really any supernatural being that watches over us. It doesn't make any sense to me. Will DMT change this perspective?

I kind of hope that it does, because sometimes I wish I had the trust & faith that it takes to believe in a religion. Lately, the ideas of Hinduism have been making more and more sense to me, partly because it recognizes that each person needs a different path (or combination of methods) to reach enlightenment, which, in a very earthly way, is one of my goals. But I can't get behind that reincarnation thing. Possibly, it might make sense if every being was really the same being reincarnated again and again and again, like in this story, but I just don't think I can teach myself to have faith in something invisible when I haven't had any my entire life. I could even deal with the various incarnations of the Hindu god, as symbols of various aspects of life. But for reincarnation to exist, someone would have to be judging & deciding who becomes who, and to care about the fate of humanity, and to originate the system in the first place. I can't even pretend that that makes sense to me.

Also, this documentary got me thinking about what if everyone in our culture did DMT, or at least psychedelics. It would change a lot, right? We might not necessarily all turn into hippies, but we'd be a lot more respectful towards our environment, and a lot less interested in the rat race. It so happens that there are cultures, in South America & the southwest U.S., where that dream has come true. It would be so interesting to grow up in a culture like that. Maybe someday, it'll be acceptable once again.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Doors of Perception

"Thus it came about that, one bright May morning, I swallowed four-tenths of a gram of mescalin dissolved in half a glass of water and sat down to wait for the results." And so Adolus Huxley, the classic novelist, begins his essay about a memorable mescaline trip. Though the writing style might be considered dry, it's a really short (and interesting) read-- I have a copy in PDF format, and it's only 24 pages. I recommend picking it up, especially if you are interested in the philosophical.

The title of the pamphlet is derived from a quote by the visionary poet William Blake, because throughout his trip, Huxley feels as though his senses have been stripped clean of their biological imperative of survival, and are allowing him to perceive the world as it really is. "This is how one should always see," he repeats.

Huxley reports that despite physical lethargy because of the dissociation, he was able to think perfectly straight, and his new lenses made everything around him mind-blowingly beautiful. Though the things that he observes (including flowers, a chair, his pant-leg, and a Cezanne painting) aren't extraordinary, he describes beautifully what was on his mind during his trip, and the philosophy connected with his thoughts. What interested me more than the description of his experience was some of the interesting conclusions that he drew, and observations that he made.

One of the joys of hallucinogens, according to Huxley, is being able to celebrate the "biologically useless." So much of our everyday experience has no survival value whatsoever: the music playing from your iPod, the stories brought to you by TV and books, the various adornments of furniture and fashion, and more-- and yet our senses are still set to only perceive the world in a practical way. We only notice what's likely to kill us, or what we can put to use, or where we're walking to. Hallucinogens can help us modify our senses so that everything we see becomes artwork, and a philosophical adventure. Huxley supports the purely aesthetic element of how psychedelics change our viewpoint, and thinks it's a valuable addition to our everyday lives. I definitely agree with him on this count-- we are allowed to do so many other things purely for the sake of pleasure (like art) and hallucinogens are less dangerous than junk food. If we all thought about it that way, we'd drop acid like we go to the theatre. And wouldn't the world be so much better?

He advocates psychedelics as the drug of the future, and discourages the use of tobacco and alcohol. Because science can do so much nowadays, he says (and I paraphrase), he was waiting for the day that someone would synthesize a chemical that lasts for a more manageable amount of time, and that wouldn't produce bad trips. In terms of time, we do have a few lesser-known options like DMT or salvia, or very very high quantities or marijuana, but everything has the risk of a bad trip. It interests me that he thinks of bad trips as a function of the chemical, and not as a normal part of the experience. In my opinion, bad trips must be as natural as dreams-- every human experience, whether it's a drug or a dream or a person or a really cute puppy, can cause different emotional reactions in different users. Also, I think that part of the value of any experience, including a drug experience, lies in the tension and discomfort it creates. That's how you learn from anything, is overcoming the negativity. Now, I've never had a truly nightmarish bad trip, but hanging out in a park definitely becomes less relaxing when the dead leaves leftover after the snow melts transform into tiny shrunken skulls. Even so, I continue to do drugs because, like work and love, the setbacks are made up for my the advantages. And how creepy would it be if hallucinogens only made you happy? They would be extremely addicting. Psychedelics would cease to have a "Vision Quest" element, and merely be trippy sedatives.

Finally, he leaves us with a question: once psychedelics have led us to these sorts of marvelous insights, what do we do? How do we integrate these experiences into our everyday lives? Very good question, Aldous. Hang tight for when I address it in a later post!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Trying DMT Part 1

My friend asked me recently whether it was a good idea to make DMT his first psychedelic. I haven't done DMT, but my first reaction was "Of course not!" However, when he explained his reasoning, I warmed up to it a little: if he doesn't like it, it's over quickly. He's done his research and feels prepared, even if a little anxious, whereas the thought of doing LSD or shrooms makes him nervous. This seems like good reasoning to me, so I decided to do a little research to decide whether or not to join him.

DMT is a chemical that is found naturally in various plants and mammals, including rats' brains, and human cerebrospinal fluid. It has been hypothesized, but not proven, that it is released by the pineal gland during dreams, near-death experiences, religious epiphanies, and in massive amounts just before death. Its structure is very similar to serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter responsible for causing feelings of pleasure and serenity in the brain. It has a long history of use among the indigenous tribes of South America.

Pure DMT is apparently a crystalline substance that can be smoked, snorted, injected or even (when combined with an MAOI) drank in a brew called Ayahuasca. As per most hallucinogens, it is generally considered nonaddictive. Unlike LSD and shrooms, it can produces true hallucinations (I'll post about the difference later) and open-eye visuals, often of a spiritual nature. Many users report interacting with aliens, elves, and other fantastical creatures. 

An average dose is commonly priced at $10-30. Its effects begin almost immediately, within 10-60 seconds of inhalation. Apparently it smells and tastes atrocious, like burning plastic, and the smoke is very harsh, but it should be breathed in deeply. It is recommended to have someone near you to take the pipe from you so you can lay down immediately; otherwise you risk a loss of motor control that can cause you to collapse. The entire experience lasts only 5-20 minutes, although full sobriety may not return for up to a few days, especially after a bad trip. After your trip, make sure you've lost your shakiness before you attempt to stand up. It's not a party drug, so don't mix it with other recreational substances, at the risk of either dulling the experience or becoming overwhelmed.

DMT is known to elevate blood pressure, so don't try it if you know that's a problem for you. The trip is made stronger by combining it with MAOI's, but this may not be a good idea. MAOI's are a group of chemicals commonly used as anti-depressants, and are also found in substances like tea, olive oil, cigarettes, pepper, and coffee. MAOI's can be addictive and cause numerous unpleasant drug interactions that may result in psychosis or death, so be extremely careful and do your research if this is on your to-do list. Other than these, there are no negative health effects of DMT.

To me, the totally immersive nature of the experience seems scary and overwhelming, but this is a chance that I can't pass up. It is made a little less intimidating by the fact that I will have friends present that have done it before. I'll let you know in a later post how it goes for my friend and I!

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Yesterday's Trip

My school has a holiday known colloquially as "Questmas." It's a day meant for the ambitious to present the results of their work over the last semester, and the rest of us are supposed to go watch. Fat chance. Most people spend it getting drunk. Since it was my first real day off in a long time, I had decided to spend this rainy day catching up on schoolwork-- but the tasty paper in my mini-fridge was too tempting.

Unfortunately, it was a really lame trip. As promised by the friend I got it from, the two tabs I took kicked in really quickly: 10-15 minutes after it hit my tongue. Instead of feeling pleasantly light-headed like usual, I felt dizzy and nauseous. I have emetophobia, so that started it off on a really bad note. I was going to hang out with a friend, but once I curled up in my boyfriend's bed, I didn't feel like going anywhere in the rain. During my last trip, I spent the comedown laying in bed and watching awesome things happen behind my eyelids, but this time it didn't work nearly as well. I did fall asleep and see a really vivid ninja battle, which was cool. I also watched Borat on the comedown, and was a little confused about how much of it was fake.

I didn't come away from my ninth trip with any insights or really any good stories, so I feel a little disappointed & disillusioned. On the bright side, I did feel energized afterwards, and realized that working halfway means that I only get to relax halfway. That was helpful when I started writing a paper.

Bonus: when my boyfriend came home from work, his first words were, "You made me high!" Apparently kissing him very soon after ingesting the acid made it wear off on him too. He described his experience (which was short & mild, but noticeable nonetheless) more eloquently than I could, so I believe him that it wasn't just psychosomatic. He described it as feeling lightheaded for about an hour, like when you stand up too fast, but still having energy to function normally. He also spent much longer than he should have appreciating the colors of his iced tea can, and studying how changing the distance from his eye changed the perspective. He's not entirely supportive of my drug choices, but we both got a good laugh out of this one, and he realized that LSD isn't as extreme or intimidating as he thought it would be. At this rate, he will be a dirty hippie in no time!

Saturday, April 9, 2011


Flashbacks were something that I didn't believe in until a close & trustworthy friend told me about his. He was sitting in Denny's late at night as is his habit, reading and drinking coffee with whiskey from his flask mixed in, when the walls started to undulate. He sat back and let it pass. For him, it wasn't a negative experience, but a transitory curiosity.

Flashbacks are a re-occurrence of the effects of a hallucinogen, usually short and mild. They usually occur within a few days after a trip, and seem to be triggered by alcohol, marijuana, stress, caffeine, fatigue, or a history of mental illness. (Though as far as I recall my friend had not tripped recently when his flashback occurred, but it may have been related to the whiskey.) Most users (70%) never experience one, and for all the fuss that is made about it in anti-drug literature, flashbacks only have a 20-30% chance of occurring (Wikipedia).

Though science hasn't yet presented us with a definitive explanation for this phenomenon, it has been proven that they are not caused by residual chemicals trapped in the spinal cord. LSD dissolves in water very easily, and therefore gets washed out of your system within 24 hours (Shulgin). Edward M. Brecher has a theory, which makes sense to me, that flashbacks occur with any extremely emotional event (whether positive or negative) and so it is of no surprise that LSD use would result in them as well (XS4All).

It's possible that the key to flashbacks will also provide insight into the mystery of HPPD, or Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder. I'll write a more in-depth post on that later, but for now, it's a syndrome that is defined by certain symptoms of a trip lasting a very, very long time (or permanently).

Many people find the threat of flashbacks a reason to avoid LSD, because of the unpredictability of the experience. However, in my opinion, if you're having a flashback you'll understand what's going on and be able to ride it out. If you were okay while tripping (which is likely) you'll most likely be okay during a flashback. If you have a history of mental illness, you shouldn't be doing acid in the first place.

It seems that although flashbacks do occur, they are a purely psychological experience, and don't pose any threat. Therefore, anti-drug literature that treats LSD as an insidious specter that will haunt you for the rest of your life is entirely incorrect. However, he may show up every once in a while to say "hi."
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