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In Search of Answers

James Kent

Preface: Psychedelic Information Theory

This is not a book about drugs, it is about experience, for what are drugs if not a means to experience? Each encounter with a psychoactive substance is a gateway into another world of unique moods, thoughts, feelings, sensations, and perceptions that would be otherwise inaccessible along this strange and twisted journey we call life. Much has been written about the many types of experiences one might encounter under the influence of a psychedelic drug, but very little has been written about how these drugs actually produce the phenomena they do, or why we react so strongly to them at such deep emotional levels. This is the primary reason I have written this book, to address the issue of how psychedelic drugs work, and why the affect us the way they do.

I can’t count the number of times I have heard a person under the influence of psychedelics utter the ubiquitous phrase, “What’s happening right now?” Often times people are completely overwhelmed by the experience, and a typical reaction is to want to stop it immediately so they can get back to “reality” and understand what just happened to them. Unfortunately, the sober mind holds no definitive answers to these questions, and many psychedelic experiences leave us shrugging, scratching our heads, and wondering, “What the hell just happened here?”

Over my years of psychedelic research I have found that few people are truly capable of wrapping their minds around the unique nature of the psychedelic experience, and even fewer have the background necessary to even start making assumptions about what is going on in our brains during the psychedelic state. More often than not people are inclined to simply state, “Those drugs are weird and scary,” and leave it at that, no further explanation wanted or needed. And then there are people like me, who when faced with the enormity of the psychedelic state spend many years — if not their entire lives — trying to unravel the deeper mysteries of the mind opened up by these chemicals. Some might call the quest to understand the psychedelic experience a fool’s errand, because the psychedelic experience is too vast and bottomless to ever be fully examined with a reductive scientific eye. I disagree. Though there are many facets to the experience — some so strange and mysterious as to stretch the limits of what science believes is possible — basic perceptual mechanics dictates that there must be an underlying physical cause for each and every facet of the psychedelic phenomenon, one that is capable of being known, described, and understood, no matter how weird or unexplainable the subjective perception of the experience may be. It is the purpose of this book to go after those answers, or to at least make some headway in the path towards a deeper understanding of the complex processes involved.

Drugs are the Key

Despite all the conventional warnings and finger wagging over the dangers, pitfalls, and evils of psychoactive drugs, these substances exist and have been used by humans for millennia for a single purpose only: to stimulate and activate the mind in ways that are otherwise not possible. And when we encounter these new facets of our brain — tap into the hidden powers that lie beyond the contrived and sanctioned states of awake, asleep, and intoxicated — there is a seminal rush of elation that has nothing to do with drugs yet has everything to do with human curiosity and the hunger for discovery. In the psychedelic state, our ever-curious eyes are opened to new realms of possibility and new modes of thought never dreamed possible. We discover that “awake” means much more then simply moving around with our eyes open, and reality pops out at us in ways that were previously unimaginable. Yes, there is an entire rainbow of discrete, fascinating, horrific, beautiful, and unimaginably strange mind states out there just waiting to be explored, and like it or not, the long road to exploring these states starts with drugs.

Now I can already hear the heated arguments that will be generated in response to this statement, and undoubtedly there will be those who adamantly claim that using drugs is dangerous and unnatural and/or that all mind states can be achieved naturally through meditation or other forms of spiritual discipline carefully crafted to lead the seeker towards higher and more enlightened states of mind. That’s all fine and well, and if straight-edge meditation and spiritual discipline is your thing then by all means stick to it. The psychedelic experience per se varies widely, and never actually fits into the neat classifications of “being high” or “being enlightened,” so trying to find some psychedelic benchmark within other mental disciplines is impossible. Schizophrenia and psychosis are the closest natural matches for the psychedelic state, and even those have endless degrees of variation. The psychedelic state is a weird, multi-variable, sensory shifting experience that defies description, so it is not for people who have rigid belief systems about drugs, their bodies, and the proper range of culturally permissible brain functions. But in response to these very legitimate concerns about psychedelics, I would like to say only three things:

Taking drugs is not unnatural. Drugs are natural, people are natural, and when the two of them are combined you have two natural systems interacting with each other in a novel way in order to become something greater than the sum of their parts. The scientific term for this type of charged interaction is synergy, and it is a concept I will revisit within the course of this text.

Taking drugs is only dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing. There are a lot of things in this world that are dangerous that people do all the time: driving, flying, skiing, swimming, rock climbing, having unprotected sex... And while there are inherent dangers in doing something as simple as walking across the street, we do it all the time without thinking twice because we have been warned of the dangers and know how to proceed carefully and with caution to minimize risks. No one would step blindly into a busy intersection without first looking both ways for traffic, just as no one should blindly throw a pill in their mouth or snort a heap of powdered root-bark without first knowing what they’re taking, how much they’re taking, and what the possible side effects and pharmacological interactions might be. To do otherwise would not just be dangerous, it would be foolish. Acquiring the knowledge to take drugs safely is arguably no more difficult than learning to drive, ski, or swim. Following simple rules, guidelines, and precautions will minimize the risk of any “dangerous” driving activity, and the same is true for taking drugs.

The psychedelic state is wholly unique, and cannot be readily achieved or replicated through any means other than chemical ingestion or spontaneously induced psychosis. There are a wide range of states you can put yourself into via yoga, meditation, breathing, and other techniques, but these states are in an entirely different ballpark from the experiences I will be looking at in this book. I do not consider states of mind like enlightenment, nirvana, bliss, deep relaxation, intense focus, heightened awareness, or even being “high” to be particularly novel or mysterious in any way. Sure, they are interesting and rewarding and there is plenty to be gained from these states, but if the state of mind actually has a name then it is, by definition, part of the human emotional lexicon already. These states have been explored up and down by mystics across the centuries, written of time and again in texts from all corners of the world, even codified and integrated into religions that are practiced by billions of people every day. These are not novel mind states, nor are there any particular mysteries pertaining to their substance or meaning.

While non-drug altered mind states are quite interesting and always worthy of further study, the primary focus of this particular book is to examine the paranormal mind states that can only be achieved through the ingestion of a psychedelic plant or chemical, with the exception of those rare psychedelic states that occur spontaneously in the form of psychotic episodes and group psychosis, which I will revisit later in this text.

Which drugs? Who’s drugs?

While I am not intentionally setting out to focus on any predefined list of substances, there are in actuality very few molecules that make the cut (for me) when it comes to producing the profound paranormal and psychotic effects covered in this text. So first, what aren’t we talking about? Let’s set aside the common narcotics, euphoriants, and stimulants (such as alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, amphetamine, heroin, etc.) which hold no real scientific mysteries; their interactions are simple and biophysically crude, producing predictable, measurable, and easily classifiable states that can be scientifically deconstructed without much effort. In short, getting high is getting high, it feels good, we like it, and our bodies produce their own powerhouse endorphins and adrenalines that narcotics and euphoriants tend to simulate, so there is very little left to examine or explain about what happens while we experience them. The same is true for euphoriants like marijuana and even borderline entheogens like MDMA. The effect of the narcotic or euphoriant is groovy and funky, the feeling is nice and warm, it opens up creative energies, softens ego, and makes music sound cooler. While all of that is nice and fun and good, it doesn’t leave a lot of ontological angst to dig through in its wake. These “simple” psychoactives are primarily mood shifters that stimulate or dampen new thought and emotion, having lesser or limited effects on actual perception of reality. Despite being enjoyable, clever stoner musings and trite MDMA revelations like “your sweater feels really fuzzy” barely begin to scratch the surface of what’s going on in your typical psychotically charged hallucination-fueled psychedelic session, so let’s step out of the training pool and head into the deep end, shall we?

So what’s left? If I’m not talking about typical narcotic drug states, just what kind of unusual drug experiences are we talking about? Well, in the category of “psychosis inducing” or “paranormal drug experience” nothing comes close to the inexplicable oddity that unfolds under a substantial dose of psychedelic tryptamines. I use the term “substantial dose” because I find the term “high dose” to be misleading and aiding to the promotion of macho ingestion syndrome, a competitive desire to do increasingly higher and higher doses of any particular substance. When I say “substantial dose” what I mean is a full dose which delivers the desired effect, and for some psychedelics that may be only a few milligrams or even micrograms of material. That such a small amount of material can catalyze such an enormous experience is one of the mysteries presented by psychedelics, and this topic will be covered later while discussing classic neurotransmitter interaction and basic psychopharmacology.

And when I say psychedelic tryptamines, I am generally referring to the familiar brand names of LSD, psilocybin (magic mushrooms), and DMT (n,n-dimethyltryptamine, the hallucinogenic component of South American ayahuasca). This does not mean I am ignoring or leaving out the other psychedelic tryptamines like 5-MeO-DMT, 5-MeO-DIPT, AMT, or the like, but more specifically that I am focusing on substances that have a broad history of popular and traditional use that have been studied at least somewhat by both professionals and amateurs. There are also some profoundly interesting phenethylamines such as mescaline (peyote), 2-CB, 2-CT-7, and too many others to name here. There are also a handful odd deliriants and dissociatives like ketamine, DXM, PCP, datura (scopolamine, atropine), fly agaric mushrooms (muscimol) and other pharmaceuticals and traditional plant entheogens that pack the kind of metaphysical whammy I am seeking to explore in this text, but would by no means recommend. And finally there are the structurally unique extracts of the Mexican mint Salvia divinorum known as Salvinorin A and B which are extremely powerful and devastatingly psychedelic in even trace amounts. But again, this book is not about any one specific drug or group of drugs, this is a book about the psychedelic experience, something that is accessible via a wide variety of plants and substances and programmed psychotic states. I have found over the years that it makes little difference which route you take to get to the psychedelic state, and any one of dozens if not hundreds of plants and chemicals can take you to the very center of the psychedelic mandala with a high level of reliability and repeatability. The real question remains, just what the hell is going on once you get there?

Now for those of you who have never experienced a substantial psychedelic trip it may be difficult to explain or imagine what I’m talking about when I say “unexplainable” or “paranormal” or “psychotic” phenomena, but bear with me and hopefully you’ll get the general idea as we go along. You may also be tempted to say something along the lines of, “Well that’s not unexplained, it’s called being crazy! You’re wasting your time trying to deconstruct the delusions of someone with a head full of drugs!” And while I admit that there is a great temptation to dismiss any paranormal event experienced under the influence of psychedelics as nothing more than drug-fueled delusion, anyone who has done a substantial dose of the stuff will tell you there’s something more to it than that. Admittedly, a small part of me would very much like to write off psychedelic experience as pure delusion and leave it at that, but it is just not that simple. In some respect the entire reason for writing this book is to address the following problem:

How can we tell from within the psychedelic state what is delusion and what is real? Is there even a difference between the two? And if so, where do we draw the boundary between reality and delusion, and how do we process and integrate the information we receive in this space?

This is the big question, and the perceptual dynamic of delusion vs. reality will be explored in great detail throughout this text. If I have done my job properly, by the end of this book, you will see that there is a lot more to the psychedelic experience than a blanket decree of “psychotic episode” might cover. Even unexplainable delusions have to come from somewhere, and the source of these strange experiences remain a mystery even to this day. Whether we’re dredging some collective unconscious, accessing the deep recesses of our genetic memory, receiving signals from some distant galaxy, touching a nearby dimension, or simply swimming in the scrambled and reconstituted bits of our own memories and perceptual systems, the weight, content, and character of the psychedelic experience is still fundamentally vast, overwhelming, miraculous, and life-changing for many who experience it. You can say all you want about drug-induced psychosis, but it would be foolish to dismiss the psychedelic experience as pointless or meaningless for this reason alone. Psychedelics are some of our most important tools in understanding who we are, how our minds work, and what’s really going on in this fragile perceptual construct we lovingly refer to as “reality.” Understanding these experiences are the keys to unlocking the deepest secrets of our minds.

And though trying to figure out what’s going on in the psychedelic experience is a complex riddle, it is still worth a shot to try and frame some important questions and provide some theories to help people understand the basics. Just like trying to understand what happens when we dream, the essence of psychedelic experience is slippery and subjective in a way that science has a hard time getting at, but science is what we need here, and we need it desperately. Without hard science we are left to purely mystical and psychological models with ill-defined concepts like ego, the subconscious, the soul, and metaphysical transcendence, and these explanations fall way short of explaining anything to me. But there is hope for us yet. There are new insights into the mind being revealed all the time, and advances in pharmacology and neuroscience continue to shed new light on the complexities of the brain each and every year. Only now, at the dawn of the 21st century, do we finally have all the information we need to adequately explain the grand mystery and wonder of the psychedelic experience. But will knowing how it all works make it any less magical? Perhaps, but I doubt it.

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Tags : psychedelic
Rating : Teen - Drugs
Posted on: 2005-02-10 00:00:00