On Being Stoned
Charles T. Tart, Ph. D.
Chapter 19. Spiritual Experiences
IN DEALING WITH spiritual experiences it is important to remember
that the sample consists primarily of young college students of
the West Coast, a very idealistic, serious, and religiously unconventional
group. To many such students religion is not a question of going
to church on Sunday but a seeking after mystical experience and
a daily living of religious principles, many of which are derived
from Oriental religions and philosophies (an excellent reference
on the impact of the new religions is Needleman, 1970).
Contact with the Divine
"I feel in touch with a Higher Power or a Divine Being
to some extent when stoned; I feel more in contact with the 'spiritual'
side of things" is an infrequent effect (39%, 13%, 24%,
12%, 10%), which begins to occur primarily at Strong to Very Strong
levels of intoxication (1%, 7%, 18%, 17%, 9%) in those able to
rate this. Meditators and the Therapy and Growth group experience
it less frequently than Ordinary Users (p <.01, overall),
the College-educated (p <.05) and Users of Psychedelics
(p <.01) more frequently.
A number of users feel they can meditate
more effectively when intoxicated: "I am able to meditate
more effectively than when straight (if yes, please describe what
sort of meditation you do on the back of this page)."
This is an infrequent effect (46%, 10%, 13%, 7%, 9%). As might
be expected, it is more frequent among Meditators (p <
.05, overall). Daily users also experience it more frequently
(p <.01, overall). Users of Psychedelics do not have
to be as intoxicated to experience meditating more effectively
(p <.05). This effect peaks at the Strong level of
intoxication (5%, 5%, 15%, 7%, 1%). Note that many more users
than the number formally classified as Meditators are giving positive
responses here with respect to their occasional or informal meditation
Most of the comments offered by Meditators on this item simply
repeated the name of the type of meditation they regularly did,
but a few were more specific concerning how marijuana intoxication
affected their meditation. These comments are given below.
A 21-year-old masseuse who practices T'ai-Chi
and Hatha Yoga writes:
At times I have felt that I have gotten a better feeling for T'ai-Chi
while stoned. I have felt the chi
more fully and have been able to let it flow through me in a way
that enabled my mind to give up control of my body. I have not
actually meditated while stoned. But I have experienced while
stoned the mindless serenity that I hope to be able to attain
through zazen sitting.
A male artist who practices Subud
Pot allows me to empty out, to drop the ego and immediate mundane
concerns. A peace ensues and a rapport with eternity arises. It
is as if a pressure valve was opened, and I am able to slough
off the tensions and considerations of this three-dimensional
"reality" and experience what seems to be a four-dimensional
state of essentials, with flexible time and space. Pot is a sacrament
when such cleansing states are reached. It is also religious (4-D)
in that it goes from the most base to the sublime, from microcosm
to macrocosm, Yin to Yang.
A 19-year-old male student who practices meditation on mandalas
writes that when intoxicated he experiences "long perceptual
jags of continuous absorption into and penetration of the perceived
A 29-year-old electrical technician who describes his meditation
practice as an eclectic mixture of early Christian and oriental
techniques writes: "I find my ability to center in while
stoned is increased. This is also the factor of 'letting go' which
is enhanced during meditation. To me getting stoned is a communion
of sorts with the God-head."
A number of users mentioned that they practiced Zen
meditation exercises on occasion and that marijuana intoxication
occasionally helped. This opinion would probably not be shared
by regular practitioners of Zen.
"I have spiritual experiences, discrete experiences which
have had a powerful, long-term religious effect on me, while stoned
(If so, please describe)" was answered yes by 33 percent
of the users. Meditators answered yes and no in the ratio of two
to one, while for Ordinary users the ratio was one to three (p
These figures overestimate the occurrence of religious experiences
with marijuana intoxication per se because some users indicated
in their answers that they were referring to experiences induced
by LSD or similar powerful psychedelics. Subtracting these, we
have 25 percent of the users reporting significant spiritual experience
while intoxicated with marijuana.
The distribution of several categories of spiritual experience
is shown in Table 19-1, with experiences resulting from LSD rather
than marijuana shown in a separate column. Examples of experiences
in each category are given below.
SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCES WHILE INTOXICATED
|TYPE OF EXPERIENCE
|NUMBER OF USERS
| Stimulation of long-term interest in religion
| Contact with divine beings
| Long-term positive changes in life-style
| Deep peace, joy
Unity refers to the experience of feeling at one with the
universe, God, others, the overall plan of things. Examples are:
"... death would be a process by which I allowed myself
to be absorbed into the light; at that point I felt as if a large
part of me was the light. This experience gave me a lasting, more
positive feeling about death and giving up the ego"; or "Mystical
one with the all-knowing."
Stimulation of long-term interest in religion refers
to reports where the emphasis was put not on the experience itself,
although it may have been impressive, but on the fact that it
forced the user to confront basic religious questions and resulted
in a long-term involvement in religious practices. Examples are:
"Not really religiousbut more like an important
thing because it can mellow people down make them think about
what they're doing. In this way hostility can be decreased; people
appreciate each other more and can generally get their heads and
hearts together. I guess that's kind of religious at that!";
or "I experienced the Kundalini force
twice when stoned; this has influenced me to begin seriously studying
Indian sacred writings...."
Contact with divine beings is illustrated by "I have
seen Christ and spoken to Him; He's the one who knows me and I
need Him"; or "Powerful feelings of the presence of
a loving, powerful, helpful being, often. I should say, at this
point I do not believe these effects occur because of the grass;
I think they are experiences, which are sharper because of less
surface noise and anxiety (grass seems very often to make concentration
easier and more lasting)."
Long-term positive changes in life-style of the
type highly valued in religious teachings are illustrated by "Usually
assumes form of a high degree of 'spiritual' empathy with others
present"; or "... the communion and God-contact has
caused me to alter my life-style; e.g., I don't lock our house,
although there is expensive sound equipment, records, books, and
art supplies in it. A willingness to share our food and home with
people. Not saying no to people who ask for time and help. A calmer,
serene attitude on life, but filled with more positive action,
e.g., teaching sensory awareness to the Free University set."
Deep peace, joy, represented by "... on pot I have
experienced peace and joy from God"; and "Mostly the
experiences are of a nature concerning a peaceful state of mind."
Among the more interesting miscellaneous cases is one of purported
recall of past life: "... strong identification with ocean
led to doctrines of reincarnationalso
sound experiences of previous lives."
Another interesting case was a humbling experience which also
would qualify as a classical account of an out-of-the-body (OOBE)
experience, although the user did not classify it as such in the
earlier item dealing with such experiences (Chapter 10). Such
experiences frequently lead the experiencer to a deep belief in
the immortality of his own soul, usually expressed in the form
that he no longer believes in survival of death, he knows
it to be true because he has experienced being alive while "out"
of his physical body. This does not logically follow, but the
logic of it is usually not important to someone who has had the
experience. The experience of this 19-year-old student was as
I had quite an interesting experience while camping. I got stoned
on grass, and as I was about to go to sleep, I came completely
awake and aware of my surroundings. It was pitch black in the
tent, yet I could see as if it were daylight. I felt as if my
body were covered with eyes and I could see in all directions.
I slowly floated up through the top of the tent, looking at the
whole area. I got farther away, moving towards space. I got very
realistic views of the earth. I kept moving up until I could see
half of the earth, then the earth and the moon, continuing until
I stood at the edge of space, inspecting the whole universe. I
was all of a sudden struck by man's insignificance. Then I proceeded
to move until I could see hundreds of universes glinting like
stars. None of these universes was any larger than the head of
a pin. It was incredibly beautiful. I began laughing almost hysterically
because now our own universe, immense as it seems to us, was no
bigger than the head of a pin and one among millions besides.
I described the whole experience as it happened to several other
people; and I believe from the reactions I got, I thoroughly scared
the hell out of them.
Experiences Sometimes Interpreted as Spiritual
A number of the intoxication experiences already reported on in
other chapters are sometimes interpreted by users as manifestations
of higher forces or spiritual forces, or as the workings of the
user's own dormant spiritual nature.
Auras around people (Chapter 6) may be considered
manifestations of spiritual energy perceptible by psychic sight
or, in the cases of saints and holy men, sometimes visible to
Ostensible paranormal phenomena, namely, telepathy, precognition,
and magical operations, discussed in Chapter 10 may also
be interpreted as budding spiritual faculties.
Out-of-the-body experiences may be considered by users
as direct proof of the existence of the soul and budding spiritual
faculties, especially when coupled with mystical experiences of
the sort reported above.
Floating in limitless space may be interpreted in the same
manner as OOBEs and have a humbling effect.
Sexual intercourse seeming more a union of souls
(Chapter 13) may seem a way of being more in accordance with the
Possession (Chapter 17), especially by a force which seems
good, is a classic religious phenomenon.
At-one-ness with the world and archetypal experience
(Chapter 18) may be seen in religious terms as greater attunement
with the way of the divine, as can increased openness, childlikeness
("... except ye be as little children...").
Readers further interested in the effect of psychedelic drugs
in inducing mystical experience under proper conditions should
see Pahnke's classic study (Pahnke, 1966;
Pahnke and Richards, 1969) and Huxley's The Doors of Perception (1954).
An interesting contrast to Huxley is Zaehner's experience of completely
suppressing the effects of mescaline intoxication in order to
prove that Huxley was wrong (Zaehner, 1957)!
RELIGIOUS SIGNIFICANCE OF BECOMING INTOXICATED
Although not all users who had had spiritual experiences while
intoxicated felt this had made getting intoxicated an act of religious
significance for them, 22 percent of the users did: "Getting
stoned has acquired a religious significance for me."
Another 4 percent indicated LSD use, rather than marijuana, had
acquired religious significance.
The Meditators indicated much more frequently than ordinary users
that getting intoxicated had acquired a religious significance
for them (p <.01).
The reasons given for this were quite varied. The simplest sorts
of explanations were on the order of "I now pray daily and
have faith and a need for religion, which I didn't feel a year
ago"; or "Grass is a way to reach God"; or "Very
simply, I can talk to God." The more complex explanations
of yes answers indicated that the insights and experiences arrived
at while intoxicated had led to the formulation of a set of religious
beliefs; e.g., "In many ways I feel that when stoned I have
released myself from some of the hassling of the 'real' world
and can be more at one with what is lasting or ultimatethat
is, I feel I have more of a chance of considering it.... It's
an analytical contemplation toolsee deeply if not broadlyany
answers found must check out down in the 'real' world.... The
view of myself and the world I get is also much more peaceful,
less filled with petty distractions..."
Many users also indicated that using marijuana was religious to
them, but not in the conventionally understood meaning of the
term; e.g., "Grass can definitely serve as a sacrament for
me; that is, I frequently feel more religious after smoking and
will often smoke to achieve this effect. I doubt if this would
work in the same way if I simply smoked and then went to church;
feeling religious is something personal that you cannot turn on
every Sunday morning." Or, "When I am stoned, I am more
aware of who I am spiritually. Grass has helped along the
way of self-realization, and in this sense it is a sacrament."
"Everything in nature appears to be good. I have great feelings
for all of nature and feel that all things (plants, bugs, people,
etc.) are of the same substance and makeup, doing the best they
can in their struggle to hold onto life and find happiness. Everything
takes on this 'struggle for existence' theme and meaning, and
this is all very beautiful" (Usually, Strongly).
"Am able to experience the blinding white light
of universal soul" (Rarely, Maximum).
"Zen, Tea Ceremony, ritual charm apparent for the first time"
(no specification of frequency or level).
"Feeling of reaching 'it,' white void or infinity, or point
where yin/yang, life/death, yes/no meet" (Usually, Very Strongly).
LEVELS OF INTOXICATION FOR SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCES
Figure 19-1 orders various spiritual experiences and related phenomena
by level of intoxication. The overall ordering is highly significant
FIGURE 19-1. INTOXICATION LEVELS, SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCES
|Type size code:
|FLOAT IN LIMITLESS SPACE
|Possessed by evil force
|AURAS AROUND PEOPLE
|Aware of chakras
|Possessed by good force
|ENERGY IN SPINAL COLUMN
|AT ONE WITH THE WORLD
|IN TOUCH WITH A HIGHER POWER
|EVENTS BECOME ARCHETYPAL
|ENERGY, POWER IN BODY
|VERY AWARE OF BREATHING
|CAN MEDITATE MORE EFFECTIVELY
|MORE CHILDLIKE OPEN, FILLED WITH WONDER
|SEXUAL LOVE A UNION OF SOULS AS WELL AS BODIES
At the Moderate to Strong levels, spiritual experiences tend to
be concerned with the way the world is perceived, such as being
open and childlike, being closer to one's sexual partner. Meditation
may begin to seem more effective. Moving toward the Very Strong
level, the nature of the perceived world begins to change, so
that events may become archetypal, the user may feel at one with
the world or in touch with a higher power, and psychic or spiritual
events may begin to occur. Going higher, time begins to be transcended
by stopping in many cases or by ostensible precognition in rare
cases. The user may feel himself possessed by outside forces on
rare occasions, and the ordinary world may be completely left
behind. Mystical experiences may occur at these very high levels
that the users cannot describe for lack of words.
Table 19-2 summarizes the relatively linear effects of various
A general pattern of more frequent spiritual experiences for the
Meditators and those with more drug experiences is clear.
EFFECTS OF BACKGROUND FACTORS ON SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCES
|More Drug Experience
In touch with Higher Power
Meditate more effectively
Sex a union of souls
Auras around people
Less intoxicated for:
Meditate more effectively
Sex a union of souls
In touch with Higher Power
Meditate more effectively
Religious significance to getting intoxicated
At one with the world
|Therapy & Growth
In touch with Higher Power
Possessed by good force
Sex a union of souls
In touch with Higher Power
|Less intoxicated for:
Float in limitless space
More intoxicated for:
For some users, important spiritual experiences have taken place
while they were intoxicated with marijuana, or as a result of
marijuana use. Some of these have been spontaneous, others deliberately
sought through meditation, which many users feel is enhanced by
intoxication. Because of these experiences, the use of marijuana
has acquired a religious significance to some users.
Whether these drug-induced spiritual experiences are "genuine"
is a question that academics and theologians can argue about forever.
The best experimental data on this question are Pahnke's (1966),
which indicated that the characteristics described for drug-induced
mystical experiences did not differ significantly from those of
naturally-occurring mystical experiences, but that study dealt
with much more powerful psychedelics than marijuana.
Certainly some of the users have made marijuana or LSD use a religious
sacrament for themselves, and two respectable churches in the
United States have considerable experience in the sacramental
use of the more powerful psychedelics (Aiken, 1970; Clark, 1970;
Osmond, 1970; Watts, 1970).
My informants, who have extensive drug experience and have devoted
much time to serious spiritual interests, note, however, the use
of psychedelic drugs for spiritual growth has both advantages
and disadvantages. The advantages center around the possibility
of the drug experience serving as an "opening," an experience
of possibilities and potentialities. The spiritual possibilities
seen must be developed and worked with in the user's everyday
life, however. Constantly seeking to reinduce these spiritual
experiences with drugs may lead to a substitution of thrilling
experiences for real work.
1. For readers interested in the psychology
of meditation, I recommend Ornstein and Naranjo's (1971) new book
2. T'ai-Chi is an ancient Chinese discipline
of moving the body in certain ways while practicing mental centering
and direction of psychic energy (chi, ki, prana).
Descriptions may be found in Chang and Smith (1967) and Feng and
Kirk (1970). (back)
3. Hatha yoga, as distinguished from other
branches of yoga, is primarily concerned with development and
control of the physical body. Some of the unusual-looking positions
used by its practitioners have been the basis of the popular stereotype
of yogis as people who are contortionists. It may be practiced
alone for its health benefits, but in terms of the overall yoga
system it is considered a basic and beginning form of yoga; it
is necessary to strengthen and control the physical body so it
will not be a source of distraction during more advanced meditation.
The reader interested in yoga may see Behanan (1937), Blofeld
(1970), Chang (1963), Evans-Wentz (1958), Garrison (1964), Johnston
(1968), Muses (1961), Wood (1954), and Yeats-Brown (1958). (back)
4. Chi is the spiritual energy that
the practitioner attempts to direct through his body. See the
discussion of experiences of energy in Chapter 11. (back)
5. Subud is a modified form of Sufism (See
Shah, 1964, 1968 for general information on Sufism) which uses
a form of opening meditation (Ornstein and Naranjo, 1971) known
as the latihan for direct contact with higher forces (Needleman,
6. The mandala is a visual meditation symbol
whose essentials consist of a center and a patterned periphery.
The overall symbol may be very simple or exceptionally complex.
It embodies certain symbolic principles in its design as well
as forming a fixation point for the meditator. See Arguelles and
Arguelles (in press), Tucci (1969), and Wilhelm and Jung (1962).
7. Good introductions to Zen Buddhism may
be found in Suzuki (1959, 1962) and Watts (1957). (back)
8. The Kundalini force refers to the
ancient Indian idea of a special sort of power (prana ki
chisee Chapter 11) which is stored in a special center
at the base of the spine. Certain meditation exercises or drugs
are supposed to be able to liberate this energy so it can flow
up the spinal column, activating various chakra centers
on the way and finally producing a state of consciousness conducive
to liberation and enlightenment in the properly prepared
yogi. It is considered highly dangerous to release the Kundalini
force without proper training under the guidance of a master.
See Gamson (1964), Govinda (1960), Krishna (1970), and Woodruffe
9. Beliefs about the idea of reincarnation
in the West are generally so distorted as to be ludicrous. The
reader interested in some accurate presentations of Eastern ideas
and an introduction to the scant scientific literature on the
subject should see Chari (1967), Ducasse (1960), Head and Cranston
(1967), and Stevenson (1966). (back)
10. The perception of the clear light or
the white light is an advanced type of mystical experience sought
after in many Oriental approaches to liberation. See Blofeld (1970),
Govinda (1960), or Leary, Metzner, and Alpert (1964). (back)