A Psychedelic Trip Can Occur Without Ever Touching Psychedelics
Due to a long history of social stigma and legal quandries, many people still believe that having a psychedelic trip is always a bad thing. But a bad trip may be beneficial, as studies have shown, and that notion is quickly being quashed.
As we’ve seen, psychedelic therapy has shown promise in treating a wide range of ailments normally resistant to conventional approaches. Studies on depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and chronic pain have all shown that psychedelics may provide dramatic relief for such conditions. While legal psychedelics loom on the not-so-distant horizon and appear to be safe in controlled environments, some are understandably apprehensive.
Psychedelic drugs still carry a residual bad reputation due to their association with ‘60s counterculture and the “turn on, tune in, and drop out” mentality advanced by evangelizers like Timothy Leary. A great deal of alarmism and misinformation persists even as serious academic study has demonstrated their safety and usefulness. Still, the future of psychedelics does look bright.
Intriguingly, a number of practices that do not involve the ingestion of foreign substances appear to induce a psychedelic trip. While some may be novelties or diversions, others may provide therapeutic benefits. These are similar to patients who consume psilocybin (magic mushrooms), ketamine, LSD, or MDMA. Increased study of these practices may eventually produce viable alternatives to existing psychedelic therapies.
Below are some of the main ways to experience a psychedelic trip without the use of psychedelics.
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A Psychedelic Trip From Meditation And Breathwork
Practitioners of transcendental meditation have long claimed that use of breathing techniques and visualization may result in a psychedelic trip. The reasons for this are still poorly understood.
Notably, the default mode network may be disrupted or deactivated by the focused breathing that characterizes most meditation. The default mode network helps us process information about the past and the future. When certain regions of the network become hyperactive and others less so, these patterns may result in repeated negative thoughts. This disruption can allow for the formation of new neuronal connections, thus resulting in greater resilience to negative stimuli.
Perhaps the most notable of practices that expressly attempt to capitalize on this phenomenon is holotropic breathwork. (While practitioners of transcendental meditation do aim to achieve altered states of consciousness, psychedelic experience is not the express goal). Holotropic breathwork, on the other hand, aims for effects similar to those of psychedelic drugs. Its name comes from the Greek word for “moving toward wholeness” — like other forms of meditation, it focuses on creating a sense of self.
Does This Type Of Breathing Work?
The technique was developed in the 1970s by psychedelics researchers Stanislav and Christina Grof as an alternative to LSD. The couple hoped to capitalize on the benefits of psychedelic experiences while avoiding legal scrutiny. Public outcry and stringent legislation had quashed most study of psychedelic drugs within a decade of their rise to prominence.
By repeating a pattern of deep inhales and sharp, rapid exhales, the technique increases the oxygen content of the blood. This then will decrease the content of carbon dioxide therein, and this rapid increase of oxygen is how the feeling of a psychedelic trip may occur.
Those who have tried holotropic breathwork report marked physical changes: rising temperature, tingling, dizziness. The psychedelic aspect of the experience, if it manifests at all, is brief, lasting for about 30 minutes after completion. Participants have reported intense visualizations and other sensory distortions. Though, generally, holotropic breathing is safe, experts warn that some individuals may hyperventilate. For that reason, those with heart conditions should avoid this type of breathwork.
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The Use Of Visuals And Music
Visual and auditory stimulation may induce a psychedelic trip or similar experiences, depending on the situation.
Artists have used lights that illuminate in a spinning or falling pattern to create an optical illusion to suggest motion. Some viewers have reported that the illusion persists for a short period after viewing the installations. (So, stationary objects outside the installation may appear to be moving).
Even an activity like gazing into another person’s eyes can cause strange visual distortions, as demonstrated by a 2015 study.
A London company now offers an immersive experience, placing the subject in a dark room with star-like lights on the ceiling. Meditative music plays through a surround-sound system. The combination of light and sound induces a transportive experience, harnessing the feeling of a psychedelic trip.
Similarly, virtual reality pioneers have used custom soundtracks and fractal imagery to replicate a psychedelic experience. Some who have tried these simulations report a sense of detachment and relaxation. Researchers even suggest that virtual reality experiences might serve as a low impact introduction to the benefits of psychedelic drugs.
Sensory Deprivation May Lead To A Psychedelic Trip
Another early psychedelic researcher, John C. Lilly, invented the sensory deprivation tank in 1954. These lidded tanks are filled with highly saline water. The saline water allows the subject to float, creating a sense of weightlessness. The lid prevents light or sound from entering the chamber. Some users have reported psychedelic-like experiences while in the tanks, including visual and auditory distortions. While Lilly experimented with taking psychedelics during the sensory deprivation experience, these tanks are now available at mainstream spas minus the drugs.
Anechoic chambers also exclude light and sound. These rooms feature thick walls and fiberglass insulation that prevents sound generated within the room from echoing. As a result, those who enter report the ability to hear subtle noises generated by their bodies, including digestion and circulation. Some have claimed to experience an out of body sensation or a feeling of displacement in space. These feelings are analogous to those experienced while under the influence of psychedelic chemicals.
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The Placebo Effect
A 2020 study reports that participants told they would be taking a psychedelic drug and then ushered into a party-like setting had psychedelic experiences, despite having been given a placebo. The study indicates that the power of suggestion may have very real effects on how we perceive the world, and how true psychedelic experiences may be influenced by our surroundings and social interactions.
The parallels between the effects of these practices and experiments, and the effects that psychedelic drugs can elicit, add an additional layer of mystery to the complexities of the human brain. As psychedelic research works its way into the mainstream, comparison between “sober” psychedelic experiences and those induced by drugs are sure to provide useful insights into what actually happens to us when we experience a psychedelic trip.
Psychedelic Therapy Clinic Spotlight:
Kalypso Wellness Centers – Dallas, Texas
Ketamine Health Centers – Mexico City, Mexico
Thrivewell Infusion – Brooklyn, New York
Holistic MD – Glen Head, New York
Cope Psychiatry – St. Louis, Missouri
Cleveland Medical Institute – Willoughby, Ohio
Mind and Body Infusion Therapies – Kirtland, Ohio
Kalypso Wellness Centers – Garden City, New York
Advanced Ketamine Services – Edmond, Oklahoma
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