The Psychedelic Experience and its effect on my life
by Robert Priddy
The effects on the mind and person of LSD 25 and similar psychotropic or psychedelic (i.e. 'mind-manifesting') substances were until very recently not objectively measurable in any meaningful, representative way. Laboratory produced, LSD 25 was the first widely known psychedelic due to its tremendous strength and range of effects (as compared, say, to cannabis) without physical after-effects or dependency (as compared say to the opium-derived substances morphine and heroin).
Astonishing live brain scan research results (published in 2016) show indubitably that LSD turns on enormously much more of the brain's connections than are activated in any normal use. This concurs with my experience of it, the images tell the story more convincingly than any other means short of actually experiencing it. This is reported in full in The Guardian at https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/apr/11/lsd-impact-brain-revealed-groundbreaking-images
Here are comparative scan images:-
Only those who have taken it (or a very similar and powerful substance) can really understand the nature of the many mental transformations that it can bring about. Opinions about what is experienced should be base on what experienced users testify, otherwise views of incompetent critics confuse the issues. On the other hand, even those who have experienced it for better or worse can be inaccurate and confused when they try to descibe it, depending on the person involved and many surrounding circumsances. This applies equally to the negative (bad trip) experiences as to the positive effects, especially as to the extreme clarity and depth of awareness and perception that liberates one from everyday life in a marvellous way in a really 'good trip'.
The experience of LSD-25 and of many another very similar 'designer psychedelics' can be both extremely inspiring, enriching or mentally healing, but also on occasion extremely trying and frightening when the conditions are not right to influence a positive development. This is also widely reported with the use of natural mind-altering plants such as peyote (active agent mescaline), ayahuasca (decoctions prepared with the Banisteriopsis caapi vine), Colombian mushrooms (Humphreya coffeata) and strong doses of cannabis.
I once posted descriptions of some of my experiences in the early 1960s when - as a student interested in psychology and psychiatry (having worked in a therapeutic institution) - I volunteered to test the unknown psychiatric research medicine LSD-25 under the guidance of a neurologist who was asked to carry out research by the Norwegian Department of Health. These included both very wonderful and also terrible experiences - all temporary, though with lasting positive effects on my understanding and creativity. The resultant experience had a tremendous effect on me and my entire orientation towards life. It led me into over 30 years of searching for answers about how the experiences could be re-generated and what they might imply for questions in philosophy and science. I went very deeply into this and, though there are of course unanswered questions in my mind today (a good sign, as I see it) I have traversed a great many areas of human knowledge - sciences, religions, world literature etc. - and have had to modify or alter my understanding - often radically - time and again as I learned what was untenable and what was borne out in my experience or otherwise stood the tests of science and my own analysis and reflection. I always strove to retain what was fruitful and stood tests of reason and experience from each of the various disciplines I left behind. This was not merely an academic research but more of an inescapable vocation that led me to engage deeply in learning from person who seemed to have deep understanding based on exerience, involving myself heart and mind in learning through practice of spiritual disciplines, many socal involvements and later involving much travel to India.
As a result of the awakening to previously unguessed capacities of the mind through LSD-25, I eventually sought to discover if the vast expansion of awareness and blissful sense it evoked were attainable through methods like yoga, meditation and mystical practices. Without my experience of LSD-25, it seems most unlikely that I would have followed that course. My interest in Tibetan, Indian and other so-called 'masters' began and I followed developments in these matters from the 1960s onwards. At the same time I was deeply involved in philosophy and the psychological and social sciences, which I taught at the University of Oslo from 1968 onwards. I learned from disciples of gurus who had come to the West, including some of the most prominent Tibetan and Indian gurus who were known at the time, about some of their serious moral failings and inconsistencies. I plunged deeply into the works of dozens of famed Indian yogis and masters, which led me to seek a guru. Due to synchronicities or strange concidences I came into contact with an apparently 'enlightened' Indian swami who I found most extraordinary and interesting and got involved in his circle in London, but after seven years I became too disenchanted with the chaotic and inconsistent ideas, beliefs and practices he represented. This, however, led to my eventually having inexplicable experiences in connection with the Indian 'avatar', Sathya Sai Baba, who drew me to India under most unusual (paranormal) circumstances and into whose organization I soon became fully involved as a leader. I got to know Sai Baba and studied his doctrine most thoroughly and experienced much of what it entailed. This lasted for 18 years until the great scandals about him and his huge deceptions broke on an unsuspecting world. I found I must redeem my honour by completely re-assessing myself, his relationship to me and his entire activity, which I have investigated and analysed on a very large scale since 2000, publicising the results on the Internet.
I only returned to the investigations of sciences after increasing and systematic disillusionment with Sathya Sai Baba and eventually with the entire 'spiritual world'. Thereupon I find the most amazing advances in almost every field of science since my former focus of concentration had shifted at around age 35-40. I think neuroscience - though regarded as in its infancy - is extremely promising. It is clear that even what we know of the brain nowadays is sufficient to show that so-called mystical experience (Satchitananda) can arise from such causes as bleeding in the left lobe, which enables the right lobe to take over. (Jill Bolte Taylor, US neurologist who experienced this herself and recovered. Very interesting!)
An interesting and illumining case was that of the British-born scientist John Wren Lewis, who was poisoned by a thief on a bus who gave him sweets in Thailand and went into a deep coma. When he recovered his experience was extremely like that described by certain mystics - a permanent 'advaitic-type' experience and, of course, users of psychedelic substances, with the difference that his condition was not temporary. Lewis' subsequent investigations and visits to prominent supposed 'masters' led him to reject that the cause of such experiences was a result of any spiritual practices, prayer, meditation or the like. He formed th conviction that spiritual gurus' methods were irrelevant as a means to such enlightenment nd bliss. One can learn a lot from this URL: http://www.spiritualteachers.org/john_wren_lewis.htm and also http://www.nonduality.com/dazdark.htm
Psychedelics certainly alter the brain functioning very radically - at least temporarily-, and many accounts of the experienced effects agree considerably with other neurological conditions whereby the right brain takes over much more when the left (mainly cognitive) side is incapacitated. How the brain hemispheres operate together to produce such huge changes of consciousness are matters so far largely unknown. That neurology is advancing so fast since the technological tools became available via computing, nuclear magnetic resonance imaging and nano-technology promises great advances in the understanding (and hence training) of consciousness. Many users of LSD-25 and related powerful psychedelic agents recognize their experiences as at least partly fulfilling what Albert Einstein was famously reported as saying (The N.Y. Times, March 29, 1972):
“A human being is a part of a whole, called by us ‘Universe.’ A part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest – a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires, and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is, in itself, a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security.”
A well-informed and balanced study comparing LSD and religious experience, which avoids uncritical associations through careful analysis of the complexities involved, by Walter N. Pahnke is on-line at http://www.psychedelic-library.org/pahnke3.htm (from 'LSD, Man & Society' Wesleyan University Press, Middletown, Connecticut, 1967). In the 1950s and 1960s, mimeograph copies of the 'Handbook for the Therapeutic Use of Lysergic Acid Diethylamide-25 Individual and Group procedures' by Blewitt and Chwelos were shared among pioneering therapists exploring the therapeutic utility of LSD. To this day, it remains one of the most relevant documented explorations of the guided psychedelic session. See http://www.erowid.org/psychoactives/guides/handbook_lsd25.shtml
All such substances that can be be mood- and mind-changing (though they may also lead to unwanted experiences) are often described generically as 'drugs'. These range from mild brain stimulants (say, nicotine, beer, spirits) to extremely hallucinogenic substances (eg. DMT and designer chemical drugs) and even include many legal and prescribed medicinal stimulants. That the psychedelic agents have such enormous attraction has made a world-wide illegal industry viable. This shows that very many people want to experience something different to what they normally do… especially more pleasurable feelings, interesting perceptions and what is hoped will be enlightening too… in short, a different sense of reality to what their everyday life allows.
The discoverer of LSD-25, Swiss chemist Albert Hoffman (1906-2008) wrote: "Of greatest significance to me has been the insight that I attained as a fundamental understanding from all of my LSD experiments: what one commonly takes as 'the reality,' including the reality of one's own individual person, by no means signifies something fixed, but rather something that is ambiguous—that there is not only one, but that there are many realities, each comprising also a different consciousness of the ego. One can also arrive at this insight through scientific reflections. The problem of reality is and has been from time immemorial a central concern of philosophy. It is, however, a fundamental distinction, whether one approaches the problem of reality rationally, with the logical methods of philosophy, or if one obtrudes upon this problem emotionally, through an existential experience. The first planned LSD experiment was therefore so deeply moving and alarming, because everyday reality and the ego experiencing it, which I had until then considered to be the only reality, dissolved, and an unfamiliar ego experienced another, unfamiliar reality. The problem concerning the innermost self also appeared, which, itself unmoved, was able to record these external and internal transformations. Reality is inconceivable without an experiencing subject, without an ego. It is the product of the exterior world, of the sender and of a receiver, an ego in whose deepest self the emanations of the exterior world, registered by the antennae of the sense organs, become conscious. If one of the two is lacking, no reality happens, no radio music plays, the picture screen remains blank." (LSD: My Problem Child, 1980)
My first description of my first major psychedelic experience in 1962 was written shortly after it (aided by a tape recording of the entire session) and subsequently supplemented by my interpretations of the experience in terms of Indian esoteric theology. The interpretations seemed most reasonable insofar as Indian mysticism was a source of many ideas and terminologies which served too help elucidate what was experienced. The apparently all-encompassing and intensely blissful awareness, and the reach of perception involved, is well described in the accounts of various religious 'mystics'. I summarise this experience here. A second major experience with LSD was a terrifying 'bad trip' which turned into what for me was a fantastic revelation, described here.
That my thoughts went towards mysticism was due to no such experiences being described in any psychological or psychiatric literature at the time. It was the continuous need to learn more, which can be said to be my main life project - that led me in that direction. Though I was then a non-believer in any religion or God, a wedge of uncertainty was created in me by the famous (or infamous) television 'Face to Face' interview with Carl Gustav Jung in which he pronounced firmly that 'I know God exists'. The interviewer missed a great chance of asking more, but he was dumbfounded in the face of that major figure of psychoanalysis and mysticism at the time. I gradually gravitated towards environments where people were open to the study of the paranormal, esoteric religion, mysticism and all manner of extra-scientific theories. It became natural to interpret such psi-phenomena as possible results of an extraordinary and even super-natural origin, hence possibly even of divine origin. Only after a lifetime of penetrating the one possibility after the other did I finally realize fully that all that was a digression from the wider and sensible-based empirical truth - as neurology and other sciences that have since progressed in developing enormously.
Trying LSD-25 without much well-informed preparation is not advised: precationary measures essential
I am very wary indeed of promoting the use of LSD-25 if not under the care of a truly experienced and mature person, or a professional psychologist/therapist who has taken the substance involved a number of times. The long-term effects of this and similar substances on different types of person - and the possible long-term changes in the brain and even genetics - are incompletely known. However, Ken Kesey - whatever his other faults may have been - put the argument of those who are against the total banning of psychedelics as a means of discovery and self-understanding well when he said: "I believe that with the advent of acid, we discovered a new way to think, and it has to do with piecing together new thoughts in your mind. Why is it that people think it's so evil?What is it about it that scares people so deeply, even the guy that invented it, what is it? Because they're afraid that there's more to reality than they have confronted. That there are doors that they're afraid to go in, and they don't want us to go in there either, because if we go in we might learn something that they don't know. And that makes us a little out of their control." (Quoted in the BBC documentary, "The Beyond Within: The Rise and Fall of LSD," 1987)
The discovery and manufacture of LSD-25 by Sandoz of Switzerland reawakened a subject which until then had little prominence, namely, the alleged beneficial results obtainable by using so-called 'mind-expanding or 'psychedelic' substances. The natural substances, cannabis, peyote (containing mescaline as its most active ingredient), psilocybin (as in various specie of 'magic mushroom') had been used for millennia in various cultures. It was the psychiatric community which became the core group interested in experimenting with these agents in therapy. The notorious interest later shown by military systems, including the CIA had little effect on the public debate. But the 'halleluja' attitude and widespread popular promotion of them, especially LDS-25 by Dr. Timothy Leary and colleagues of the prestigious Harvard School of Medicine caused the subject to be a sensation throughout the popular media while thousands and soon millions began to use these substances. New psychotropic agents were discovered and others developed by hippie 'drug designers'. All this led to the banning of these substances from sale, even for experimentation by professional medicine (with but a handful of exceptions) which was soon being enforced world-wide. Criminal law was up-dated to include the possession, sale or manufacture of all such agents... as opium, cocaine, morphine derivates had long been. Cannabis was banned by an international agreement in the early 1900s because of the problems it was then causing in Egypt. This ban was then extended and reinforced in virtually all Westernized countries.
All psychotropic agents were regarded as dangerous as heroin – sometimes even worse – and the public hysteria grew as criminal organizations took advantage of the huge demand for all manner of illegal substances that had grown to extend their operations also to all manner of new 'drug', creating a trillion dollar world industry. The criminalization of all degrees of use of banned substances created a ready network for also pushing traditional drugs like heroin and cocaine. There ensued what is known now as the ¨drug war¨ - a prohibition backed by all official bodies not only against all 'drug barons', but also all their clients – 'ordinary' users (categorized as victims, but dealt with as criminals).
Though the drug war continues unabated across much of the globe, there is a growing 21st century attitude among the more enlightened bodies and professional expertise – including a more informed breed of lawmaker here and there - that has succeeded in getting recognition for the medical and theraupeutic benefits of such substances as cannabis, MDMA ('ecstasy'), LSD-25 and various similar mind-changing or related derivatives. There are now legalized uses by doctors and/or clinics of heroin (in Switzerland, for example) and methadone (a habit-forming agent which substitutes for heroin etc.).
[ note: Long-term Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in most incurable cases (estimated 50% do not respond to available treatments) have been successfully treated with MDMA (ecstasy) in 16 out of 20 cases of such therapy, the subjects claiming total cure and release from fear and 'inner demons' to a new life after being suicidal, and without relapses after several years. This is testified by psychiatrist Michael Mithoefer, Medical University of South Carolina.
In 2017, an article "How psychedelics like psilocybin and LSD actually change the way people see the world" promotes these as means to combat otherwise untreatable depression and other conditions, not least death anxiety. This article shows how the new acceptace of substances once maligned as 1dangerous drugs' has progressed in a few years.http://uk.businessinsider.com/a-new-understanding-film-shows-how-psilocybin-changes-perception-2017-2
New research is showing that ecstasy has none of the ill effects on the brain that were previously widely anticipated. In 2010, in five countries ecstasy was already being used on war veterans with PTSD – in the USA, Switzerland, Spain, Israel, and Jordan. (See also 'Drugs and Behaviour' (3rd edition 1985) by Fred Leavitt, 'LSD – Doorway to the Numinous' by Stanislav Grof.). It is also of interest that, since the international hysteria about LSD-25 has died down after decades of intense suppression of its use even in serious research institutes, there is a resurgence of independent researches into the various theraupeutic possibilities of treatment with LSD-25 and similar substances. One such review of this renewed professional interest is found at http://www.nature.com/news/lsd-helps-to-treat-alcoholism-1.10200
Current neuroscience - backed by 'live' brain monitoring MRI technology - is gradually investigating the complex relationships between the two sides of the brain. In some few instances of very long-term meditation this relationship can apparently be much affected. It is known that some forms of meditation can bring about effects similar to those from use of psychotropic 'medicines' and/or drugs (from cannabis, psilocybin, mescaline, LSD-25, DMT, Ecstasy, to ketamine, morphine, heroin etc. - all of which are 'illegal' in most countries). These effects are only temporary, though they require far more time and effort (see scanned pages from a neuroscientist's book on effects of meditation and psychedelic agents on the brain)
It is worthy of note that LSD-25 was originally hailed by many psychiatrists as of great therapeutic value with mental disorder that were impenetrable to other treatments. LSD-25 was given in mental hospitals as a medicine. Years after I first knew about LSD125, I learned that it was prescribed for a number of patients for some years and was administered by my mother, who was a staff nurse at both The Henderson Hospital and Belmont Hospital in Surrey. Due to the explosion of usage of many illegal substances in the late 1960s and Timothy Leary's excessive promotion of it for getting high, LSD-25 gradually became banned across the world as more and more people denounced it totally as a 'dangerous drug', which is now at last becoming recognized as a vast exaggeration. For example, the prominent lecturer, broadcaster and writer Sue Blackmore, wrote very informatively in the Guardian that 'There is No Hiding With LSD'
So-called 'mystical experiences' & LSD
Not only drugs are the cause of the most unusual 'ecstatic' experiences. There are many practices which lead to such alterations of consciousness, ranging from major sense deprivation, very extended fasting, loss of blood (as in some self-lacerating religious frenzy ceremonies, accidents like heavy blows on the coccyx or the head, brain seizures and even at least one case of poisoning. These have sometimes arisen from accidents, not least brain seizures (neurologist Jill Bolte Taylor's own major stroke being one of the clearest cases of this activation see http://www.ted.com/talks/jill_bolte_taylor_s_powerful_stroke_of_insight.html).
Since the above was written I happened to have an operation for a broken hip. The medication I was prescribed was mostly morphine derivates, but the dosage was based on a simplistic ad hoc questionnaire (how much pain do you have on a scale of 1 to 10? - which is an entirely uncertain subjective guess as no one knows how much is the maximum of pain possible). As a result I was give a much higher dosage than required and this was sustained through 2 weeks due to hospital inefficiency. The dosage was increased in power by anything up to double effect by my taking a glass of grapefruit juice every morning - at that time I had not discovered the major increased effect of grapefruit juice on a range of medicines, including morphine. The result was that I had a very strong morphine experience. It began while I was about to doze off whereby I found my mind was able to review a vast number of perceptions of things which make up the environment and this grew to extend into the far beyond. Everything one perceives was seen to be merely a mental form and these were ordered in normally-unseen hierarchies upon hierarchies, all being part of the most wonderfully logical consistent whole where the answer to all problems about reality could be found. More than that, I realized they could be changed by me and the ordering altered according to my will. I was able to re-construct reality from the elements at my mind's disposal and I built up a wonderful cosmos which went on and on in complexity. In a state of joyous wonder, I told myself that this would have to be recorded exactly in a book which would become a runaway best seller, so fantastic were the possibilities. How the process progressed further I cannot recall as I evidently fell asleep. On awakening next morning after an unusually deep and satisfying sleep, I had forgotten how to write the book, the details of the entire consistent vision were lost, only the vague outline remained (in short, my present weak description of a most powerful vision).
My point in relating this here is to remind what has long been known, namely that the human brain has astonishing potentialities of creative imagination and the distinction between dream and reality can disappear entirely. The poppy plant and its derivatives have long since shown many creative persons how the brain can create our own private reality, at least temporarily and also have long-term effects on our entire development. My discoveries have convinced me at last that mystics who describe uniquely what they experience in supposed 'divine samadhi' have simply come, by often very diverse means, to stimulate the brain into producing a subjective condition, in general virtually indistinguishable from the effects of mind-altering substances. The varieties of experience are evidently great, both among religious mystics and among others who have so-called 'transcendental' experiences. These states, as described in countless forms throughout the relevant literature, differ from one another in their particularity, though they often share many general distinguishing features. I contend that those mystics who describe uniquely what they experience in supposed 'divine samadhi' does not require any divine realm or god or any particular religious faith and practices to attain. It can arise in the brain through a large number of both natural and artificial causes. One such cause may well be the intense self-hypnosis involved in constant repetition of a mantra, a name, a prayer or other forms of ritual worship which alter the condition of the body and brain. It is most likely that the intense forms of such mind alteration can only be temporary, since even the need to eat and drink would not be considered or felt. Besides, the belief in an eternal state, whether of bliss or hell, contradicts everything so far known about the universe... where everything is subject to change sooner or later.
Meditation and Mind-altering Substances
To calm the emotions and control stress can be beneficial in difficult situations… and meditation – which varies enormously and individually in methods and effects – is known to work in this way, at the very least to some extent. Meditation - which need not have any religious content whatever – has been proven under scientific control conditions to have effect in reducing stress levels, which is very widespread in the world and are a major cause of a range of illnesses. It even has been shown to have effects on recovery from a number of physical illnesses and some research reportedly also shows that it also effects changes in the genetic code. See Benson Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine (Professor at Harvard Medical School) who shows that repetition of words is an effective method of mind-calming, used in almost all cultures (mostly with a religious connection, which - however - is experimentally shown to be an entirely unnecessary adjunct). See also Jon Kabat-Zinn, Massachusetts Medical University, who researched thousands who were suffering a range of illnesses, finding significant improvements of (non-religious) meditators over the control group which did not meditate. Thirdly, Professor B. Zachariae of Århus University researched a form of meditation known as 'visualization' which improved physical conditions remarkably in those who concentrated on positive body and organ visualizations. Stronger immune systems were observed in those who visualized while being subjected to ultra-violet light, compared to those who were only subjected to the ultra-violet light. Diverse other researches support the general tendency of the findings referred to here.
Some real insight into meditation, its benefits and weaknesses, is found in 'The Blissful Brian' by London's University College researcher in neurology and meditation, Dr. Shanida Nataraja. Be aware that gurus are often ignorant of which form of meditation is best for the vastly-differing individuals. Meditation can help some people in some ways, but is not a universal palliative, despite what many gurus have said. For more real insight into this read 'The Blissful Brian' by Dr. Shanida Nataraja - not a guru but a practitioner of meditation and a scientific neurologist who has studied many forms of meditation East and West.
One danger is that people wanting to discover the best way for them to achieve self-awareness and peace of mind and hope meditation will achieve this for them take the route of choosing a guru. This is most often highly inappropriate, not least since the same type of practice is not right for all people by any means - and because most gurus are not highly developed themselves, and many are simply bogus.
Nataraj has studied a range of mind-chaning substances (LSD, DMT, mescaline, cannabis, and ketamine) and is convinced that the effets that can be achievd through these are no different from what mystics describe as their highest experiences, all of which she states are also only temporary. See http://www.blissfulbrain.com/Resources/AtoZ.htm
The connection so often believed to pertain between mind-altering experiences and 'spirituality' of religious and sectarian kinds cultist movements is coming under increased scrutiny as science progresses towartds ever more detailed analysis and understanding of the brain, but also due to the volume of internet traffic in which religious beliefs are challenged by dissidents and others who have deep insight into the workings of this indictrination. See The ‘spiritual quest’ as a wild goose chase?