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Psychedelics and Personal Growth

  Non-Therapeutic Uses of LSD

    Stanislav Grof, M.D.

        Chapter 8, LSD Psychotherapy, ©1980, 1994 by Stanislav Grof
        Hunter House Publishers, Alameda, California, ISBN 0-89793-158-0

Training Sessions of Mental Health Professionals
Administration of LSD to Creative Individuals
Drug-Induced Religious and Mystical Experiences
Role of LSD in Personal Growth and Self-Actualization
Use of LSD in the Development of Paranormal Abilities


    The extraordinary value of LSD for the education of psychiatrists and psychologists became evident at a very early stage of its research. In his pioneering paper, published in 1947, Stoll emphasized that an auto-experiment with this drug gives professionals a unique opportunity to experience first-hand the alien worlds which they encounter in their everyday work with psychiatric patients. During the "model psychosis" phase of LSD research, when the psychedelic state was considered a chemically-induced schizophrenia, LSD sessions were recommended as reversible journeys into the experiential world of psychotics which had a unique didactic significance. The experience was recommended for psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses, social workers, and medical students as a means of acquiring insights into the nature of mental illness. Rinkel (85), Roubicek (90) and other researchers who conducted didactic experiments of this kind reported that a single LSD session can dramatically change the understanding that mental health professionals have of psychotic patients, and result in a more humane attitude toward them.
    The fact that the "model psychosis" concept of the LSD state was eventually rejected by most researchers did not diminish the educational value of the psychedelic experience. Although mental changes induced by LSD are obviously not identical with schizophrenia, the ingestion of the drug still represents a very special opportunity for professionals and students to experience many states of mind that occur naturally in the context of various mental disorders. These involve perceptual distortions in the optical, acoustic, tactile, olfactory, and gustatory areas; quantitative and qualitative disturbances of the thought-processes; and abnormal emotional qualities of extraordinary intensity. Under the influence of LSD it is possible to experience sensory illusions and pseudohallucinations, retardation or acceleration of thinking, delusional interpretation of the world, and an entire gamut of intense pathological emotions such as depression manic mood, aggression, self-destructive craving, and agonizing feelings of inferiority and guilt, or conversely, ecstatic rapture, transcendental peace and serenity, and a sense of cosmic unity. The psychedelic experience can also become a source of revelatory aesthetic, scientific, philosophical, or spiritual insight.
    Autoexperimentation with LSD does not exhaust its didactic potential. Another learning experience of great value is participation in the sessions of other subjects. This offers an opportunity for young professionals to observe an entire range of abnormal phenomena and be exposed to and become familiar with extreme emotional states and unusual behavior patterns. This occurs under specially structured circumstances, at a convenient time, and in the context of an existing relationship with the experient. All these factors make this a situation better suited for learning than the admission ward or emergency unit of a psychiatric hospital. In a more specific way, sitting in LSD sessions has been recommended as an unequaled training for future psychotherapists. The intensification of the relationship with the sitters that is characteristic of LSD sessions presents a rare opportunity for a novice professional to observe transference phenomena and learn to cope with them. The use of LSD in the context of a training program for future psychotherapists has been discussed in a special paper by Feld, Goodman, and Guido. (26)
    An extensive and systematic study of the didactic potential of LSD sessions was conducted at the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center. In this program, up to three high-dose LSD sessions were offered to mental health professionals for training purposes. Over one hundred persons participated in this program between 1970 when it began, and 1977 when it was ended. Most of these individuals were interested in the psychedelic experience because it was closely related to their own professional activities. Some of them actually worked in crisis intervention units or with patients who had problems related to psychedelic drug use. Others were practitioners of various psychotherapeutic techniques and wanted to compare LSD psychotherapy to their own particular discipline—psychoanalysis, psychodrama, Gestalt therapy, psychosynthesis, or bioenergetics. A few were researchers involved in the study of altered states of consciousness, the dynamics of the unconscious, or the psychology of religion. A small group consisted of professionals who were specifically interested in becoming LSD therapists. They usually spent several months with us, attending staff meetings, watching videotapes of LSD therapy practice, or guiding psychedelic sessions under supervision. They then had the opportunity to undergo their own LSD sessions as part of the training schedule. All the participants in the LSD program for professionals agreed to cooperate in pre- and post-session psychological testing, and complete a follow-up questionnaire six months, twelve months, and two years after the session. The questions in this follow-up form focused on changes which they observed after the LSD session in their professional work, life philosophy, religious feelings, their emotional and physical condition, and interpersonal adjustment. Although we have much anecdotal evidence of the value of this training program, the data from the pre-and post-session psychological testing and from the follow-up questionnaires has not yet been systematically processed and evaluated.
    As I have emphasized earlier, LSD training sessions are an essential qualification for every LSD therapist. Because of the unique nature of the psychedelic state it is impossible to reach a real understanding of its quality and dimensions unless one directly experiences it. In addition, the experience of confronting the various areas in one's own unconscious is absolutely necessary for developing the ability to assist other people with competence and equanimity in their process of deep self-exploration. LSD training sessions are also highly recommended for nurses and all other members of the staff in psychedelic treatment units who come in close contact with clients in unusual states of consciousness



    One of the most interesting aspects of LSD research is the relationship between the psychedelic state and the creative process. Professional literature on the subject reflects considerable controversy. Robert Mogar (71), who reviewed the existing experimental data on the performance of various functions related to creative work, found the results inconclusive and contradictory. Thus some studies focusing on instrumental learning demonstrated impairment during the drug experience, while others indicated a definite enhancement of the learning capacity. Conflicting results have also been reported for color perception, recall and recognition, discrimination learning, concentration, symbolic thinking, and perceptual accuracy. Studies using various psychological tests specifically designed to measure creativity usually fail to demonstrate significant improvement as a result of LSD administration. However, how relevant these tests are in relation to the creative process and how sensitive and specific they are in detecting the changes induced by LSD remains an open question. Another important factor to consider is the general lack of motivation in LSD subjects to participate and cooperate in formal psychological testing procedures while they are deeply involved in their inner experiences. In view of the importance of set and setting for the psychedelic experience, it should also be mentioned that many of the above studies were conducted in the context of the "model schizophrenia" approach, and thus with the intention of demonstrating the psychotic impairment of performance.
    The generally negative outcome of creativity studies is in sharp contrast to the everyday experience of LSD therapists. The work of many artists—painters, musicians, writers, and poets—who participated in LSD experimentation in various countries of the world has been deeply influenced by their psychedelic experiences.[1] Most of them found access to deep sources of inspiration in their unconscious mind, experienced a striking enhancement and unleashing of fantasy, and reached extraordinary vitality, originality and freedom of artistic expression. In many instances, the quality of their creations improved considerably, not only according to their own judgment or the opinion of the LSD researchers, but by the standards of their professional colleagues. At exhibitions which chronologically show the artist's development, it is usually easy to recognize when he or she had a psychedelic experience. One can typically see a dramatic quantum jump in the content and style of the paintings. This is particularly true of painters who, prior to their LSD experience, were conventional and conservative in their artistic expression.
    However, most of the art in the collections of psychedelic therapists comes from subjects who were not professional artists, but had LSD sessions for therapeutic, didactic, or other purposes. Frequently, individuals who did not show any artistic inclinations at all prior to the LSD experience can create extraordinary pictures. In most instances, the intensity of the effect is due to the unusual nature and power of the material that emerges from the depths of the unconscious, rather than the artistic abilities. It is not uncommon, however, for even the technical aspects of such drawings or paintings to be far superior to previous creations by the same subjects. Some individuals actually pursue in their everyday life the new skills they discover in their psychedelic sessions. In exceptional cases, a genuine artistic talent of extraordinary power and scope may emerge during the LSD procedure. One of my patients in Prague, who had loathed drawing and painting all her life and had to be forced to participate in art classes at school, developed a remarkable artistic talent within a period of several months. Her art eventually found enthusiastic acceptance among professional painters and she had successful public exhibitions. In instances like this, one has to assume that the talent already existed in these individuals in a latent form, and that its expression was blocked by strong pathological emotions. The affective liberation through psychedelic therapy had allowed its free and full manifestation.
    It is interesting that the LSD experience tends to enhance appreciation and understanding of art in individuals who were previously unresponsive and indifferent. A characteristic observation from psychedelic research is the sudden development of interest in various movements in modern art. Subjects who were indifferent or even hostile toward non-conventional art forms can develop deep insight into suprematism, pointillism, cubism, impressionism, dadaism, surrealism, or superrealism after a single exposure to LSD. There are certain painters whose art seems to be particularly closely related to the visionary experiences induced by LSD. Thus many LSD subjects develop deep empathic understanding of the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch, Vincent van Gogh, Salvador Dali, Max Ernst, Pablo Picasso, René Magritte, Maurits Escher, or H. R. Giger. Another typical consequence of the psychedelic experience is a dramatic change of attitude toward music; many LSD subjects discover in their sessions new dimensions in music and new ways of listening to it. A number of our patients, who were alcoholics and heroin addicts with poor educational background, developed such deep interest in classical music as a result of their one LSD session that they decided to use their meager financial resources for buying a stereo set and starting a record collection of their own. The role of psychedelics in the development of contemporary music and their impact on composers, interpreters, and audiences is so obvious and well-known that it does not require special emphasis here.
    Although the influence of LSD on artistic expression is most evident in the fields of painting and music, the psychedelic experience can have a similar fertilizing effect on some other branches of art. Visionary states induced by mescaline and LSD had a profound significance in the life, art and philosophy of Aldous Huxley. Many of his writings, including Brave New World, Island, Heaven and Hell, and The Doors of Perception have been directly influenced by his psychedelic experiences. Some of the most powerful poems by Allen Ginsberg were inspired by his self-experimentation with psychedelic substances. The role of hashish in the French art of the fin de siècle could also be mentioned in this context. The Canadian-Japanese architect Kiyo Izumi was able to make unique use of his LSD experiences in designing modern psychiatric facilities. (40)
    Since LSD mediates the access to the contents and dynamics of the deep unconscious—in psychoanalytic terms, to the primary process—it is not particularly surprising that psychedelic experiences can play an important role in the creative development of artists. However, many observations from psychedelic research indicate that LSD can also be of extraordinary value to various scientific disciplines that are traditionally considered domains of reason and logic. Two important aspects of the LSD effect seem to be of particular relevance in this context. First, the drug can mediate access to vast repositories of concrete and valid information in the collective unconscious and make them available to the experient. According to my observations, the revealed knowledge can be very specific, accurate, and detailed; the data obtained in this way can be related to many different fields. In our relatively limited LSD training program for scientists, relevant insights occurred in such diverse areas as cosmogenesis, the nature of space and time, sub-atomic physics, ethology, animal psychology, history, anthropology, sociology, politics, comparative religion, philosophy, genetics, obstetrics, psychosomatic medicine, psychology, psychopathology, and thanatology.[2]
    The second aspect of the LSD effect that is of great relevance for the creative process is the facilitation of new and unexpected syntheses of data, resulting in unconventional problem-solving. It is a well-known fact that many important ideas and solutions to problems did not originate in the context of logical reasoning, but in various unusual states of mind—in dreams, while falling asleep or awakening, at times of extreme physical and mental fatigue, or during an illness with high fever. There are many famous examples of this. Thus, the chemist Friedrich August von Kekulé arrived at the final solution of the chemical formula of benzene in a dream in which he saw the benzene ring in the form of a snake biting its tail. Nikola Tesla constructed the electric generator, an invention that revolutionized industry, after the complete design of it appeared to him in great detail in a vision. The design for the experiment leading to the Nobel prize-winning discovery of the chemical transmission of nerve impulses occurred to the physiologist Otto Loewi while he was asleep. Albert Einstein discovered the basic principles of his special theory of relativity in an unusual state of mind; according to his description, most of the insights came to him in the form of kinaesthetic sensations.
    We could mention many instances of a similar kind where a creative individual struggled unsuccessfully for a long time with a difficult problem using logic and reason, with the actual solution emerging unexpectedly from the unconscious in moments when his or her rationality was suspended.[3] In everyday life events of this kind happen very rarely, and in an elemental and unpredictable fashion. Psychedelic drugs seem to facilitate the incidence of such creative solutions to the point that they can be deliberately programmed. In an LSD state, the old conceptual frameworks break down, cultural cognitive barriers dissolve, and the material can be seen and synthesized in a totally new way that was not possible within the old systems of thinking. This mechanism can produce not only striking new solutions to various specific problems, but new paradigms that revolutionize whole scientific disciplines.
    Although psychedelic experimentation had been drastically curbed before this avenue could be systematically explored, the study of creative problem-solving conducted by Willis Harman and James Fadiman (36) at the Stanford Research Institute brought enough interesting evidence to encourage future research. The drug used in this experiment was not LSD but mescaline, the active ingredient of the Mexican cactus Anhalonium lewinii [Lophophora williamsii], or peyote. Because of the general similarity of the effects of these two drugs, comparable results should be expected with the use of LSD; various accidental observations from our LSD training program for scientists and from the therapeutic use of this drug seem to confirm this. The subjects in the Harman-Fadiman study were twenty-seven males engaged in a variety of professions. The group consisted of sixteen engineers, one engineer-physicist, two mathematicians, two architects, one psychologist, one furniture designer, one commercial artist, one sales manager, and one personnel manager. The objective of the study was to ascertain whether under the influence of 200 milligrams of mescaline these individuals would show increased creativity and produce concrete, valid, and feasible solutions to problems, as judged by the criteria of modern industry and positivistic science. The results of this research were very encouraging; many solutions were accepted for construction or production, others could be developed further or opened new avenues for investigation. The mescaline subjects consistently reported that the drug induced in them a variety of changes which facilitated the creative process. It lowered inhibitions and anxieties, enhanced the fluency and flexibility of ideation, heightened the capacity for visual imagery and fantasy, and increased the ability to concentrate on the project. The administration of mescaline also facilitated empathy with people and objects, made subconscious data more accessible, strengthened the motivation to obtain closure and, in some instances, allowed immediate visualization of the completed solution.
    It is obvious that the potential of LSD for enhancing creativity will be directly proportional to the intellectual capacity and sophistication of the experient. For most of the creative insights, it is necessary to know the present status of the discipline involved, be able to formulate relevant new problems, and find the technical means of describing the results. If this type of research is ever repeated, the logical candidates would be prominent scientists from various disciplines: nuclear physicists, astrophysicists, geneticists, brain physiologists, anthropologists, psychologists and psychiatrists.[4]



    The use of psychedelic substances for ritual, religious, and magical purposes can be traced back to ancient shamanic traditions and is probably as old as mankind. The legendary divine potion soma, prepared from a plant of the same name whose identity is now lost, played a crucial role in the Vedic religion. Preparations from hemp Cannabis indica and sativa have been used in Asia and Africa for many centuries under different names—hashish, charas, bhang, ganja, kif—in religious ceremonies and folk medicine. They have played an important role in Brahmanism, have been used in the context of Sufi practices, and represent the principal sacrament of the Rastafarians. Religio-magical use of psychedelic plants was widespread in the Pre-Columbian cultures, among the Aztecs, Mayans, Olmecs, and other Indian groups. The famous Mexican cactus Lophophora williamsii (peyote), the sacred mushroom Psilocybe mexicana (teonanacatl), and several varieties of morning glory seeds (ololiuqui) were among the plants used. Ritual use of peyote and the sacred mushroom still survives among various Mexican tribes; the peyote hunt and other sacred ceremonies of the Huichol Indians and healing rituals of the Mazatecs using the mushrooms can be mentioned here as important examples. Peyote was also assimilated by many North American Indian groups and about one hundred years ago became the sacrament of the syncretistic Native American Church. South American healers (ayahuascheros), and preliterate Amazonian tribes such as the Amahuaca and the Jivaro use yagé, psychedelic extracts from the "visionary vine," the jungle liana Banisteriopsis caapi. The best known African hallucinogenic plant is Tabernanthe iboga (eboga), which in smaller dosages serves as a stimulant and is used in large quantities as an initiatory drug. In the Middle Ages, potions and ointments containing psychoactive plants and animal ingredients were widely used in the context of the Witches' Sabbath and the black mass rituals. The most famous constituents of the witches' brews were the deadly nightshade (Atropa Belladonna), mandrake (Mandragora officinarum), thornapple or "jimson weed" (Datura Stramonium), henbane (Hyoscyamus niger), and toad skin. Modern chemical analysis has detected in the skin of toads (Bufo buff), a substance called bufotenine (or dimethylserotonin) which has psychedelic properties. The psychedelic plants mentioned above represent only a small selection of those that are most famous. According to ethnobotanist Richard Schultes of the Botanical Department of Harvard University, there exist more than one hundred plants with distinct psychoactive properties.
    The ability of psychedelic substances to induce visionary states of a religious and mystical nature is documented in many historical and anthropological sources. The discovery of LSD, and the well-publicized occurrence of these experiences in many experimental subjects within our own culture, has brought this issue to the attention of scientists. The fact that religious experiences could be triggered by the ingestion of chemical agents instigated an interesting and highly controversial discussion about "chemical" or "instant mysticism." Many behavioral scientists, philosophers, and theologians became involved in fierce polemics about the nature of these phenomena, their meaning, validity, and authenticity. The opinions soon crystallized into three extreme points of view. Some experimenters saw the possibility of inducing religious experiences by chemical means as an opportunity to transfer religious phenomena from the realm of the sacred to the laboratory, and thus eventually to explain them in scientific terms. Ultimately, there would be nothing mysterious and holy about religion, and spiritual experiences could be reduced to brain physiology and biochemistry. However, other researchers took a very different stance. According to them, the mystical phenomena induced by LSD and other psychedelic drugs were genuine and these substances should be considered sacraments because they can mediate contact with transcendental realities. This was essentially the position taken by the shamans and priests of psychedelic cultures where visionary plants such as soma, peyote and teonanacatl were seen as divine materials or as deities themselves. Yet another approach to the problem was to consider LSD experiences to be "quasi-religious" phenomena which only simulate or superficially resemble the authentic and genuine spirituality that comes as "God's grace" or as a result of discipline, devotion, and austere practices. In this framework, the seeming ease with which these experiences could be triggered by a chemical entirely discredited their spiritual value.
    However, those who argue that LSD-induced spiritual experiences cannot be valid because they are too easily available and their occurrence and timing depend on the individual's decision, misunderstand the nature of the psychedelic state. The psychedelic experience is neither an easy nor a predictable way to God. Many subjects do not have spiritual elements in their sessions despite many exposures to the drug. Those who do have a mystical experience frequently have to undergo psychological ordeals that are at least as difficult and painful as those associated with various aboriginal rites of passage or rigorous and austere religious disciplines.
    Most researchers agree that it is not possible to differentiate clearly between spontaneous mystical experiences and "chemical mysticism" on the basis of phenomenological analysis or experimental approaches.[5] This issue is further complicated by the relative lack of specific pharmacological effects of LSD and by the fact that some of the situations conducive to spontaneous mysticism are associated with dramatic physiological and biochemical changes in the body.
    Prolonged fasting, sleep deprivation, a stay in the desert with exposure to dehydration and extremes of temperature, forceful respiratory maneuvers, excessive emotional stress, physical exertion and tortures, long monotonous chanting and other popular practices of the "technology of the sacred" cause such far-reaching alterations in body chemistry that it is difficult to draw a clear line between spontaneous and chemical mysticism.
    The decision whether chemically induced experiences are genuine and authentic or not thus lies in the domain of theologians and spiritual masters. Unfortunately the representatives of different religions have expressed a wide spectrum of conflicting opinions; it remains an open question who should be considered an authority in this area. Some of these religious experts made their judgments without ever having had a psychedelic experience and can hardly be considered authorities on LSD; others have made far-reaching generalizations on the basis of one session. Serious differences of opinion exist even among leading representatives of the same religion—Catholic priests, Protestant ministers, Rabbis, and Hindu saints—who have had psychedelic experiences. At present, after thirty years of discussion, the question whether LSD and other psychedelics can induce genuine spiritual experiences is still open. Negative opinions of individuals like Meher Baba or R. C. Zaehner stand against those of several Tibetan Buddhist masters, a number of shamans of the psychedelic cultures, Walter Clark, Huston Smith, and Alan Watts.
    Whether the experiences produced by LSD are genuine mystical revelations or just very convincing simulations thereof, they are certainly phenomena of great interest for theologians, ministers, and students of religion. Within a few hours, individuals gain profound insights into the nature of religion, and in many instances their purely theoretical understanding and formal belief is vitalized by a deep personal experience of the transcendental realms. This opportunity can be particularly important for those ministers who profess a religion, but at the same time harbor serious doubts about the truth and relevance of what they preach. Several priests and theologians who volunteered for our LSD training program at the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center were skeptics or atheists who were involved in their profession for a variety of external reasons. For them, the spiritual experiences they had in their LSD sessions were important evidence that spirituality is a genuine and deeply relevant force in human life. This realization liberated them from the conflict they had had about their profession, and from the burden of hypocrisy. In several instances, the relatives and friends of these individuals reported that their sermons following the LSD session showed unusual power and natural authority.
    Spiritual experiences in psychedelic sessions frequently draw on the symbolism of the collective unconscious and can thus occur in the framework of cultural and religious traditions other than the experient's own. LSD training sessions are therefore of special interest for those who study comparative religion. Ministers affiliated to a specific church are sometimes surprised when they have a profound religious experience in the context of an entirely different creed. Because of the basically unitive nature of the psychedelic experience, this usually does not disqualify their own religion but places it in a broader cosmic perspective.



    During the years of intensive LSD research, the major focus was on basic psychopathological investigation, psychiatric therapy, or some quite specific uses, such as enhancement of artistic expression or mediation of a religious experience. Relatively little attention was paid to the value that psychedelic experiences could have for the personal development of "normal" individuals. In the mid-sixties, this issue emerged in an elemental and explosive fashion in a wave of massive nonsupervised self-experimentation.
    In the atmosphere of national hysteria that ensued, the pros and cons were discussed in a passionate, over-emphatic, and ultimately confusing way. The LSD proselytes presented the drug quite uncritically as an easy and safe panacea for all the problems that beset human existence. Psychedelic self-exploration and personality transformation were presented as the only viable alternative to sudden annihilation in a nuclear holocaust or slow death among industrial waste products. It was recommended that as many people as possible should take LSD under any circumstances and as frequently as they could in order to accelerate the advent of the Aquarian Age. LSD sessions were seen as a rite of passage that should be mandatory for everybody who reached their teens.
    Failure to warn the public about the dangers and pitfalls of psychedelic experimentation and to give instructions for minimizing the risks resulted in a large number of casualties. Apocalyptic newspaper headlines describing the horrors of LSD "bummers" and drug-related accidents ignited a witch-hunting response in legislators, politicians, educators, and many professionals. Ignoring the data from almost two decades of responsible scientific experimentation, the anti-drug propaganda switched to the other extreme and presented LSD as a totally unpredictable devil's drug that represented a grave danger to the sanity of the present generation and the physical health of generations to come.
    At present, when the emotional charge of this controversy has subsided, it seems possible to take a more sober and objective view of the problems involved. Clinical evidence strongly suggests that "normal" people can benefit most from the LSD process and are taking the least risk when participating in a supervised psychedelic program. A single high-dose LSD session can frequently be of extraordinary value for those persons who do not have any serious clinical problems. The quality of their lives can be considerably enhanced and the experience can move them in the direction of self-realization or self-actualization. This process seems to be comparable in every way to the one that Abraham Maslow described for individuals who had spontaneous "peak experiences."
    The official anti-drug propaganda is based on a very superficial understanding of the motivations for psychedelic drug use. It is true that in many instances the drug is used for kicks or in the context of juvenile rebellion against parental authority or the establishment. However, even those who take LSD under the worst circumstances frequently get a glimpse of the drug's real potential, and this can become a powerful force in future use. The fact that many people take LSD in an attempt to find a solution to their emotional dilemmas or from a deep need for philosophical and spiritual answers should not be underestimated. The craving for contact with transcendental realities can be more powerful than the sexual urge. Throughout human history countless individuals have been willing to take enormous risks of various kinds and to sacrifice years or decades of their lives to spiritual pursuits. Any reasonable measures regulating the use of psychedelic drugs should take these facts into consideration.
    Very few serious researchers still believe that experimentation with pure LSD represents a genetic hazard. Under proper circumstances the psychological dangers that represent the only serious risk can be reduced to a minimum. In my opinion, there is no scientific evidence that precludes the creation of a network of facilities in which those who are seriously interested in psychedelic self-exploration could engage in it with pure substances and under the best circumstances. Many of these would be subjects who are so deeply motivated that they would otherwise be serious candidates for illegal self-experimentation involving a much higher risk. The existence of government-sponsored centers of this kind would have an inhibiting effect on the immature motivations of people for whom the present strict prohibitions represent a special challenge and temptation. An additional advantage of this approach would be the opportunity to accumulate and process in a systematic way all the valuable information about psychedelics that is otherwise lost in elemental and chaotic unsupervised experimentation. This would also remedy the existing absurd situation in which almost no serious professional research is being conducted in an area where millions of people have been experimenting on their own.



    Much historical and anthropological evidence and numerous anecdotal observations from clinical research suggest that psychedelic substances can occasionally facilitate extrasensory perception. In many cultures visionary plants were administered in the context of spiritual healing ceremonies as means to diagnose and cure diseases. Equally frequent was their use for other magical purposes, such as locating lost objects or persons, astral projection, perception of remote events, precognition, and clairvoyance. Most of the drugs used for these purposes have been mentioned earlier in connection with religious rituals. They include the resin or leaves of hemp (Cannabis indica or sativa) in Africa and Asia; fly-agaric mushrooms among various Siberian tribes and North American Indians; the plant Tabernanthe iboga among certain African ethnic groups; the snuffs cohoba (Anadenanthera peregrine) and epena (Virola theidora) of South America and the Caribbean; and the three basic psychedelics of the Pre-Columbian cultures—the peyote cactus (Lophophora williamsii), the sacred mushrooms teonanacatl (Psilocybe mexicana) and ololiuqui or morning glory seeds (Ipomoea violacea). Of special interest seems to be yagé, a brew prepared from the jungle creeper Banisteriopsis caapi and other "vines of the dead" used by South American Indians in the Amazon valley. Harmine, also called yagéine or banisterine, one of the active alkaloids isolated from the Banisteriopsis plant, has actually been referred to as telepathine. The psychedelic states induced by the extracts of these plants seem to be especially powerful enhancers of paranormal phenomena. The most famous example of the unusual properties of yagé can be found in the reports of McGovern (69) one of the anthropologists who described this plant. According to his description, a local medicine man saw in remarkable detail the death of the chief of a faraway tribe at the time when it was happening; the accuracy of his account was verified many weeks later. A similar experience was reported by Manuel Cordova-Rios (53) who accurately saw the death of his mother in his yagé session and was later able to verify all the details. All psychedelic cultures seem to share the belief that not only is extrasensory perception enhanced during the actual intoxication by sacred plants, but the systematic use of these substances facilitates development of paranormal abilities in everyday life.
    Much anecdotal material collected over the years by psychedelic researchers supports the above beliefs. Masters and Houston (65) have described the case of a housewife who in her LSD session saw her daughter in the kitchen of their home looking for the cookie jar. She further reported seeing the child knock a sugar bowl from a shelf and spill sugar on the floor. This episode was later confirmed by her husband. The same authors also reported an LSD subject who saw "a ship caught in ice floes, somewhere in the northern seas." According to the subject, the ship had on its bow the name "France." It was later confirmed that the France had indeed been trapped in ice near Greenland at the time of the subject's LSD session. The famous psychologist and parapsychological researcher Stanley Krippner (49) visualized, during a psilocybin session in 1962, the assassination of John F. Kennedy which took place a year later. Similar observations were reported by Humphrey Osmond, Duncan Blewett, Abram Hoffer, and other researchers. The literature on the subject has been critically reviewed in a synoptic paper by Krippner and Davidson. (50)
    In my own clinical experience, various phenomena suggesting extrasensory perception are relatively frequent in LSD psychotherapy particularly in advanced sessions. They range from a more-or-less vague anticipation of future events or an awareness of remote happenings to complex and detailed scenes in the form of vivid clairvoyant visions. This may be associated with appropriate sounds, such as spoken words and sentences, noises produced by motor vehicles, sounds of fire engines and ambulances, or the blowing of horns. Some of these experiences can later be shown to correspond in varying degrees with actual events. Objective verification in this area can be particularly difficult. Unless these instances are reported and clearly documented during the actual psychedelic sessions there is a great danger of contamination of the data. Loose interpretation of events, distortions of memory, and the possibility of deja vu phenomena during the perception of later occurrences are a few of the major pitfalls involved.
    The most interesting paranormal phenomena occurring in psychedelic sessions are out-of-the-body experiences and the instances of traveling clairvoyance and clairaudience. The sensation of leaving one's body is quite common in drug-induced states and can have various forms and degrees. Some persons experience themselves as completely detached from their physical bodies, hovering above them or observing them from another part of the room. Occasionally, the subjects can lose the awareness of the actual physical setting altogether and their consciousness moves into experiential realms and subjective realities that appear to be entirely independent of the material world. They may then identify entirely with the body images of the protagonists of these scenes, be they persons, animals, or archetypal entities. In exceptional cases the individual may have a complex and vivid experience of moving to a specific place in the physical world, and give a detailed description of a remote locale or event. Attempts to verify such extrasensory perceptions can sometimes result in amazing corroborations. In rare instances, the subject can actively control such a process and "travel" at will to any location or point in time he or she chooses. A detailed description of an experience of this kind illustrating the nature and complexity of the problems involved has been published in my book Realms of the Human Unconscious, p. 187. (32)
    Objective testing by the standard laboratory techniques used in parapsychological research has generally been quite disappointing and has failed to demonstrate an increase of extrasensory perception as a predictable and constant aspect of the LSD effect. Masters and Houston (65) tested LSD subjects with the use of a special card deck developed in the parapsychology laboratory at Duke University. The deck contains twenty-five cards, each of which has a geometrical symbol: a star, circle, cross, square, or wavy lines. The results of the experiments in which LSD subjects attempted to guess the identity of these cards were statistically nonsignificant. A similar study conducted by Whittlesey (102) and a card-guessing experiment with psilocybin subjects reported by van Asperen de Boer, Barkema and Kappers (6) were equally disappointing, though an interesting finding in the first of these studies was a striking decrease of variance; the subjects actually guessed closer to mean chance expectation than predicted mathematically. Unpublished findings of Walter Pahnke's parapsychological research at the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center suggest that the statistical approach to this problem might be misleading. In this project, Walter Pahnke used a modified version of the Duke University cards in the form of electronic keyboard panels. The LSD subject had to guess the key that had been lit on a panel in an adjacent room either manually or by a computer. Although the results for the entire group of LSD subjects were not statistically significant, certain individuals achieved strikingly high scores in some of the measurements.
    Some researchers voiced objections to the uninteresting and unimaginative approach to the study of parapsychological phenomena represented by repetitive card guessing. In general, such a procedure does not have much chance in the competition for the subject's attention as compared to some of the exciting subjective experiences that characterize the psychedelic state. In an attempt to make the task more appealing, Cavanna and Servadio (19) used emotionally-loaded materials rather than cards; photographic color prints of incongruous paintings were prepared for the experient. Although one subject did remarkably well, the overall results were nonsignificant. Karlis Osis (73) administered LSD to a number of "mediums" who were given objects and asked to describe the owners. One medium was unusually successful, but most of the others became so interested in the aesthetic and philosophical aspects of the experience, or so caught up in their personal problems, that they found it difficult to maintain concentration on the task.
    By far the most interesting data emerged from a pilot study designed by Masters and Houston (65) who used emotionally charged images with sixty-two LSD subjects. The experiments were conducted in the termination periods of the sessions, when it is relatively easy to focus on specific tasks. Forty-eight of the individuals tested approximated the target image at least two times out of ten, while five subjects made successful guesses at least seven times out of ten. For example one subject visualized "tossed seas' when the correct image was a Viking ship in a storm. The same subject guessed "lush vegetation" when the image was rain forests in the Amazon, "a camel" when the image was an Arab on a camel, "the Alps" when the picture was the Himalayas, and "a Negro picking cotton in a field" when the target was a plantation in the South.
    The study of paranormal phenomena in psychedelic sessions presents many technical problems. In addition to the problems of getting the subject interested and keeping his or her attention on the task, Blewett (12) also emphasized the rapid flow of eidetic imagery that interferes with the ability of the subject to stabilize and choose the response that might have been triggered by the target. The methodological difficulties in studying the effect of psychedelic drugs on extrasensory perception or other paranormal abilities and the lack of evidence in the existing studies cannot, however, invalidate some quite extraordinary observations in this area. Every LSD therapist with sufficient clinical experience has collected enough challenging observations to take this problem seriously. I myself have no doubt that psychedelics can occasionally induce elements of genuine extrasensory perception at the time of their pharmacological effect. On occasion, the occurrence of certain paranormal abilities and phenomena can extend beyond the day of the session. A fascinating observation that is closely related and deserves attention in this context is the frequent accumulation of extraordinary coincidences in the lives of persons who had experienced transpersonal phenomena in their psychedelic sessions. Such coincidences are objective facts, not just subjective interpretations of perceptual data; they are similar to the observations that Carl Gustav Jung described in his essay on synchronicity. (44)
    The discrepancy between the occurrence of parapsychological phenomena in LSD sessions and the negative results of specific laboratory studies seems to reflect the fact that an increase in ESP is not a standard and constant aspect of the LSD effect. Psychological states conducive to various paranormal phenomena and characterized by an unusually high incidence of ESP are among the many alternative mental conditions that can be facilitated by this drug; in other types of LSD experiences the ESP abilities seem to be on the same level as they are in the everyday state of consciousness, or even further reduced. Future research will have to assess if the otherwise unpredictable and elemental incidence of paranormal abilities in psychedelic states can be harnessed and systematically cultivated, as it is indicated in shamanic literature.



    1. The interested reader will find comprehensive discussion of this subject in Robert Masters' and Jean Houston's excellent book Psychedelic Art (66). The influence of LSD and psilocybin on the creativity of professional painters has also been uniquely documented in the book Experimental Psychoses (90) by the Czech psychiatrist, J. Roubicek. Oscar Janiger's unpublished collection of professional paintings done under the influence of LSD also deserves to be mentioned in this context. (back)
    2. Some concrete examples of relevant insights of this kind are described in my book Realms of the Human Unconscious. (32) (back)
    3. Many additional examples of this phenomenon can be found in Arthur Koestler's book The Act of Creation. (48) (back)
    4. The interested reader will find more information on the subject in Stanley Krippner's synoptic paper Research in Creativity and Psychedelic Drugs. (51) (back)
    5. The most interesting study of this kind was Walter Pahnke's (75) Good Friday experiment conducted in 1964 in the Harvard Chapel in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In this study, ten Christian theological students were given 30 milligrams of psilocybin, and ten others who functioned as a control group received 200 milligrams of nicotinic acid as placebo. The assignment to the two groups was done on a double-blind basis. They all listened to a two-and-a-half-hour religious service that consisted of organ music, vocal solos, readings, prayers, and personal meditation. The subjects who were given psilocybin rated very high on the mystical experience questionnaire developed by Pahnke, whereas the response of the control group was minimal. (back)

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