About our Workshops
2008-02-22 06:39:17 by admin
About Hallucinogenic Plants For the Explorers of Inner Space
There are a variety of tools available to anyone interested in exploring altered states of consciousness. Such tools
include meditation, out-of-body experiences, brain and biofeedback instruments, occult type rituals, visualization
exercises, and also in this category are hallucinogenic plants. Each of these tools provides a different doorway into the
inner spaces of our subjectivity and consciousness. In this article, I would like to provide a brief overview of
hallucinogenic plants as one means among many for achieving altered states of consciousness. It is not my intention
here to debate whether it is right or not to use hallucinogenic plants, whatever is ones motive, though I will discuss the
variety of opinions that exist in this regard. My purpose here is twofold: 1. to give a broad overview of hallucinogenic
plants in general, and 2. to show how hallucinogenics can provide, if used reasonably and responsibly, a valuable and
substantial tool for exploring inner spaces.
History Of Hallucinogenic Substances
The history of mankind’s involvement with hallucinogens seems to go back thousands of years. Some modern
scholars speculate that the soma of the ancient Hindus was indeed a hallucinogenic substance that was used for
purposes of religious ritual and ecstasy. The use of opiates in China and the Far East is well documented. The religious
uses of hallucinogenic mushrooms by Native Americans is also a well documented fact, as well as being a point of
controversy in modern legislation. So is the use of Ayauscha used by Inidans in the Amazon well documented and today
the “Vine of the Soul” forms the focal point for two of Brazil’s main Religions. Namely the Church of
However, the modern West only really became involved with hallucinogenic plants after World War II. It was in 1948
that a Psychedelic chemical was man produced from rye mould by Albert Hoffman, called LSD. Hoffman was at the time
looking for antibiotic substances in fungi. Also around this time, mescaline was identified as the active agent in certain
hallucinogenic plants. Within a few years after being recognized, these substances began to cause severe polarization
in opinions about their use and benefit.
On one hand, there were in the 1950s and early 1960s, small groups of avant garde intellectuals who began to
associate religious and mystical qualities with the effects of these plants on human perception. Perhaps best known in
this regard was Aldous Huxley’s “The Doors of Perception”, which highlighted Huxley’s
personal experiences on mescaline. Also in this vein was Alan Watts’ “The Joyous Cosmology”
which also extolled the philosophical and mystical virtues of the hallucinogenic experience.
So from the very beginning the hallucinogenic plants have been viewed from totally opposite points of view: doctors
initially equated the plants’ effects with psychosis, and intellectuals equated the plants’ effects with
And here we are, some few hundred years later.
The use of Psychedelic plants (Entheogens) has not gone away, it is a subject simply not talked about anymore.
Well, with this bit of history under our belts, I’d like to discuss a little about the hallucinogenic plants themselves
both in terms of what their subjective effects are and also what is known about how they react in the body.
After that, I will then go into more detail about their use as a tool for exploring inner space.
The Effects of Hallucinogenic Plants.
So doctors call it insanity, and intellectuals call it enlightenment, but really, what is it? What are the effects caused when
In terms of effects, one of the most important generalizations about these plants’ effects was laid out by
Terrence Mckenna when he spoke of “set and setting”. What he meant by this is that what a psychedelic
user actually experienced was critically dependant on the user’s state of mind (set) and where he was at and
what company he was in (setting). This fact is completely true. It is very difficult to classify the effects of hallucinogenic
because they are so dependent upon set and setting. If the user is depressed and in bad company, the experience will
be vastly different than if the user is relaxed, happy and in good company.
But, keeping this idea of “set and setting” in the front of our mind, we can still make some generalizations
about the subjective effects of the psychedelic experience. Some of the most commonly reported effects are:
3. Sensory mixing (hearing sights or seeing sounds).
4. Weakening of ego boundaries (a weakening or loss of sense of self).
5. Enhanced ability to think abstractly.
7. Enhanced ability to sense the emotions of others.
8. Inability to maintain focus or concentration for long periods.
10. Feelings of extreme depression and terror.
Now this list is by no means complete. It only states some of the more commonly reported effects. It is also important to
state that not all of these are experienced by a psychedelic user. As a matter of fact it is possible that none of these
effects will be experienced. It is important to be aware that: THE EFFECTS OF HALLUCINOGENIC PLANTS ARE
EXTREMELY UNPREDICTABLE. The rule of “set and setting” is the best guide for anticipating what the
effects of a hallucinogenic experience may be.
As a matter of fact, I have a close friend who is quite experienced at the use of hallucinogens, and his rule of thumb is
the following: “if you have a garden in your mind, then you’ll be in it.
If you have a garbage can in your mind, then you’ll be in it.” This is very useful advice.
Explanations of Hallucinogenic Effects
At this point I would like to begin to discuss what it is that these plants are doing in the body. There is no question that
hallucinogens cause profound effects. The really key question is: where do these effects come from?
To answer this question I would like to lay out two very different theories of what it is the hallucinogens are doing to the
human being. We will see that these theories are complimentary in that they both shed light on mode of the action of
hallucinogenic Plants. However, these two theories I am about to discuss are products of vastly different world-views
that most people consider to be contradictory. In this article, I take the attitude that we can learn from both.
The two views of how hallucinogens affect humans that I will now discuss are the scientific view and the occult view.
Both science and occultism offer reasonable and useful views about the nature of the hallucinogenic experience.
However, what I intend to illustrate here is that the occult view is simply better. Let us begin with the scientific view.
There are philosophical problems we must as well address as we proceed.
A Psychedelic plant such as Psilocybe Mushrooms offers a severe challenge to the conventional scientific wisdom.
Science tells us that our consciousness is somehow the product of our brain; that our psychology is the software, and
the brain is the hardware. At first glance, the Psychedelic experience seems to completely support this view for we have
eaten a chemical that severely alters the hardware, and thus, expectedly, alters the software (i.e. our thoughts and
perceptions). For the moment, let us just accept this contention and work with it.
Scientific Explanations of Hallucinogenic Effects
Modern scientific investigations into the structure of the brain shows that it is made of lots of different layers of tissues
such as the cortex, cerebellum and others. These tissues in turn are, in total, made of some one trillion cells. These cells
are called neurons. Neurons look a lot like tree branches, branching off in myriad directions touching many, many other
neurons. And the neurons align themselves like fibres, making thick tracts of cable throughout the brain. It is well known
that neurons conduct electricity along themselves. This electricity is created by salts like sodium and potassium, chloride
and calcium. And these salts act in the cells, much like the salts in a battery work to make electricity.
Now it is also well known that neurons do not touch each other directly, but that there is a small space between
adjacent neurons. This space is called a synapse. Now the way neurons conduct electricity from one to the next is that,
the electrical impulse travels the length of the first or sending neuron until it gets to the synapse. At this point, the
electricity at the synapse causes the first neuron to release chemicals, called neurotransmitters, into the synapse. these
neurotransmitters float across the synapse where they then encounter the second or receiving neuron. Depending on
the nature of the second neuron, once the neurotransmitters contact it, it will either continue the impulse (and this then
would be an excitatory neuron), or it will not conduct the impulse (this is an inhibitory neuron). It is important to
appreciate that there are two types of neurons in the brain, excitatory and inhibitory. This is important for understanding
how science explains the mode of action of hallucinogenic plants.
As it turns out, the chemical structure of the hallucinogenic is very similar to the chemical structure of the
neurotransmitters in the brain. Scientist therefore conclude (and quite reasonably) that what happens when you take a
hallucinogenic plants is that the it gets into the brain and interferes with the normal operation of the neurotransmitters.
The hallucinogenic plant fools the neurons into thinking it is a neurotransmitter and it then disrupts the normal flow of
Now the specific details of how this happens do not exist. Yet, because the hallucinogens expand the activity in ones
consciousness, scientists believe that whatever hallucinogens are doing in the brain, ultimately they are disrupting
The idea here is that inhibitory synapses serve a filtering function in the brain and that unwanted or unnecessary stimuli
are inhibited. If hallucinogens disrupt this filtering function, then one would expect an increase in the
“noise” level of the brain leading to such activities as hallucinations or even delusions. Thus, the effects of
hallucinogens are generally seen by scientists to be “noise” (similar to static on a radio, for example).
There is no question a certain degree of merit to this hypothesis. However, one could ask as well: are there perhaps
latent functions in the brain that are turned on by hallucinogens? This point of view has not been well addressed by
scientific research for the simple fact that, how can you look at something if you don’t know it exists? If there are
functions turned on by hallucinogenic plants in the brain that do not normally operate in our usual states of
consciousness, then scientists have nothing to compare these states to, and thus are affected by a blind spot. Still,
though this question of turning on latent functions is not easily addressed in terms of scientific thinking, we shall see
below that occult views provide us a basis to reasonably address this question.
In spite of any hypothesis scientists may provide as to the operation of hallucinogens in the nervous system, we must
put this discussion in its proper perspective. Whatever scientists may profess to know about the activity of hallucinogenic
plants is colored strongly by the fact that the current scientific understanding of how the brain and nerve cells work is
And this point leads us back to philosophy. Because, on one hand, scientists like to believe that the brain creates
consciousness, but on the other hand, scientist have only a partial and incomplete understanding of how the brain
works. This seems like putting the cart before the horse to me. It is possible that science will come to understand in very
full detail how the operation of the brain leads to memory formation and other psychological phenomena. But the point
is, they only have a partial understanding at this point. If you took a brain scientist (a neurologist, or neurochemist, or
whatever) and sat them down and asked; “How does the brain create consciousness?”
They’ll either B.S. you with a bunch of details and never directly answer your question, or they will out right
honestly admit that this question simply cannot be answered with current knowledge (if you can’t dazzle
‘em with brilliance, baffle ‘em with bullshit!). So, the bottom line is, that science’s contention that
the brain creates consciousness is more belief and dogma than it is cold, hard, provable fact.
Now it’s important to appreciate this situation, because what it does is leave the doorway open for alternative
explanations. And in this quest for alternative explanations, we do not have to take an attitude that science is wrong and
the alternatives are right, or vice versa.
We can take a more balanced and reasonable attitude and realize that different explanations will give us a broader
scope on the issue and therefore, in the end, make our understanding fuller than if we defensively or dogmatically cling
So having said this, let us turn to an alternative explanation of the Psychedelic effects (and any other hallucinogen for
that matter), and this is the explanation given by occultists.
Occult Explanations Of Hallucinogenic Effects
Now occultists have a much different world-view than scientists, but as a world-view it is no less complex. For our
purposes here what we must realize is that occultism teaches the opposite of science and that is that our consciousness
is independent from our body. According to occultists, our body (and therefore our brain as well) is but a temporary
vehicle that houses our consciousness in the span of our life in the physical world. Occultism also teaches that there are
worlds other than the physical and these worlds are called “planes”. Only four of these planes are
significant to humans. These are the physical, astral, mental and buddhic planes. According to occultists we also have
vehicles or bodies for each of these planes. Thus each of us has an astral body and mental body and a buddhic body.
It is by this theory that occultism explains the plain facts of our lives. Occultism teaches that our emotions are our astral
body, that our mind is our mental body, and that our soul or conscience is our buddhic body. Thus, right from the start,
occultism does not bother with the idea that our physical body creates our mind, emotions or soul (and this idea of
“soul” incidentally, is something science likes to deny). Instead, occultism claims that all of these vehicles
overlap and interact and create our life and experience as we know and understand it.
Now it is not my intention here to judge occult theory, or the validity of these ideas. To an explorer of inner space
(especially one who frequently experiences out-of-body states) this theory is perfectly obvious. For someone with no
comprehension of inner realities or experiences with altered states of consciousness, all I can say is, this article is not
for you. Go read Carl Sagan or something.
To return to the point, occult theories detail very carefully the manner in which all the vehicles interact. The interaction of
the vehicles is explained by the theory of the chakras. The chakras are seven (or a couple more depending on the scope
of the occult theory) vortex like depressions in the astral, mental and buddhic bodies that serve as energy channels
between the bodies. The chakras are energy processing centres that hold the bodies together and unify mind, body,
emotion and soul into the one framework of our direct experience. Any meditators out there probably have had direct
experiences with their chakras. As it turns out, the location of the chakras in our other bodies, line up in a line with the
spine of our physical body and they are located wherever there is a nerve plexus in our physical body.
Furthermore, occultism teaches that there is an intimate feedback and interplay between all of the bodies, and this
feedback is effected through the chakras. Our physical body also has chakras, but these are invisible to our physical
senses of sight, sound, taste, touch and hearing. Our physical chakras are made of a type of radiation that is invisible to
our sense (this radiation is called “etheric matter” by occultists), but they exist nonetheless, and serve as
the bridge between our nervous system and our astral, mental and buddhic bodies.
“Concerning the Use of Chymical Agents, and be mindful that thou abuse them not, learn that the Sacrament
itself relateth to Spirit, and the Four Elements balanced there under, in its Perfection.”
Chakra theory is very complex. Each chakra serves a variety of specific functions. These I will only briefly outline here
to the extent that it is relevant to our discussion of hallucinogenic plants. Here is a list of the chakras by their common
name (the Hindu names can be found in any worthwhile yoga book). These will be listed from the bottom of the spine up
to the top of the spine, along with the corresponding body locations:
So as not to keep the reader in suspense, the reason I am going into some detail about chakra theory is that we shall
see that it explains much clearer than science does what happens when under the influence of hallucinogenic plants.
Now to go into this we need some understanding of the functions of the chakras. These are listed briefly as:
What the reader will notice about this list is that each chakra has not only physical functions or organs associated with
it, but as well subjective and psychological functions associated with it.
It is by means of this theory that occultism explains the relationship between mind and body and soul. All of these
factors are interconnected through the operation of the chakras. Even though it may seem that we are getting
unnecessarily complex here, we are actually building a very powerful theoretical framework of howa human is built and
Already at this point we have related biological and psychological functions in one coherent theory. Science, with its
reductionistic mentality can offer us no equivalent counterpart. Science, as mentioned above, cannot offer any detailed
understanding of how the subjective and objective facets of our life interrelate. Chakra theory, and occultism in general,
does indeed offer this understanding. And what I shall now illustrate is that occultism does not contradict or clash with
science in any way. Instead, it offers us an expanded viewpoint that integrates the facts known to modern science into a
larger view of our total experience as human beings
So with this minimal picture of occult theory in mind, let us return to the issue of hallucinogenic Plants. Using occult
theory, what we can say is that hallucinogenic Plants severely affect the behaviour of the chakras. All of the subjective
effects listed earlier in this article can be accounted for as effects of hyperactivity in definite chakras:
1. Thus, visual hallucinations are in actuality the stimulation of the third eye chakra, leading to some degree of
clairvoyance, which is the perception of the adjacent planes.
2. Audio hallucinations are the stimulating of the throat chakra to hyper activity. In this case, one begins to hear on, for
3. The mixing of sensory modalities is an effect of the crown chakra, which is the site of integration, not only of sensory
perception, but astral perception (emotions), and mental perception (thinking). Thus, at the point of integration (crown
chakra) all separate modalities are blended into a unified consciousness. This effect is enhanced under hallucinogenics.
And the hallucinogenic effect is even more pronounced because of the fact that we rarely recognize this integration to
begin with. It is there all along but we don’t see, and when the plant stimulates the crown chakra and we are
forced to look at this integration of the modalities of our consciousness it seems surprising to us.
4. The weakening of ego boundaries is again an effect of increasing the activity of the crown chakra. In this case, it is
not so much that the ego is loosened but that the ego is seen in its proper perspective in the totality of our organization
as a human being. Again, this is an effect of the integration function of the crown chakra. The ego (which effectively is
our personal identity) is but one facet of our being. In our day to day life however, we tend to over emphasize our ego at
the expense of other facets of our being. Again, the hallucinogenic stimulation of the crown chakra only serves to put
5. Enhanced ability to think abstractly. What is happening here is that the hallucinogen triggers off such an enormous
increase in libido energy (which will be discussed below) that our mind is capable of perceiving a much vaster range of
the mental plane. This effectively translates into broader, more sweeping and more abstract thoughts.
6. The uncontrollable urge to laugh is a classic phenomena indicating enhanced chakra activity. Laughter is a release of
tension. Increasing the activity of chakras is also a release of tension. The increased chakra motion effectively burns up
the extra energy. An experienced Paychedelic user is unlikely to have this laughter effect, only a novice who is not used
to the sensations of enhanced chakras would express these sensations by uncontrollable laughter.
7. This is very similar to how people laugh when they are nervous or cry when they are very happy. However, on the
hallucinogen, the effect is greatly increased.
8. The enhanced empathic ability is mainly a function of the hyper stimulation of the heart chakra. Our whole ability to
be sensitive to the emotions displayed by others resides in the heart chakra. The hallucinogenic stimulates the heart
chakra, so it is no surprises that a typical hallucinogenic user is more sensitive to the feelings and attitudes of others.
9. Inability to maintain focus or concentration for long periods. Here we run into a situation that is probably more a
function of the brain than of the chakra system. It should be pointed out that experienced hallucinogenic users will report
that this effect only lasts for a small percentage of the time that the plant effects are occurring. Probably what we are
seeing here is the maximum effect of the actual chemical in the physical body in which there is a maximum disruption of
the normal function of the neurons in the brain. Again, this effect is short lived (usually about 30-60 minute). And often it
seems that this effect is a prelude to the effect of thinking abstractly. It appears that we are dealing with distinct phases
of the plant experience here and with effect number 5, again, with number 8 here preceding number 5.
10. Feelings of extreme joy. This effect is literally the opposite of effect 10: feelings of extreme terror and/or depression.
What he have here is an amplification of ones normal state of mind by the enhanced libido of the plant. Whatever the
user is feeling becomes greatly magnified, so reports of extreme emotional states are common. Also, since emotion is
generally a function of the concerted (simultaneous) operation of the four lower chakras, we find here evidence that the
hallucinogen is affecting not only the higher chakras (throat, third-eye and crown) but the lower ones as well. Again, this
11. Finally, the direct connection to the Divine. It is in studying this hallucinogenic effect that we can begin to tie
together many elements of this article. We have seen that intellectuals identified the Psychedelic experience with
religious experience. It is also a common, though reasonably accurate picture that the guy in the nut house thinks
he’s Jesus. Furthermore, all yoga texts worth reading explain that the function of yoga is ultimately to transfer all
of the libido energy to the crown chakra at which point the yogi achieves nirvana, or mystical insight, which, practically
speaking, is the total, integrative psychological event. One directly perceives the unity of the cosmos, and ones place in
this unity. For all practical purposes, this is indeed seeing the Divine.
That Western intellectuals have perceived this in a religious context, and Western physicians have perceived this in the
context of psychosis, really tells us something about Western intellectuals and Western doctors. All I can ask is:
“Who would you invite over for dinner, or have watch your kids?”
At this point, I would like to attempt to generalize this picture of the action of hallucinogenic plants on the chakras
system. One important facet of occult teaching I have not explicitly stated yet, though I have been using it, is the idea of
“kundalini”. Yogis and occultists teach that housed in the root chakra is a fundamental energy called
This energy is depicted as a coiled snake and it is the goal of the yogi and occultist to, slowly and in a controlled
manner, release this energy. The purpose for releasing this energy is to bring it progressively through the chakras,
which in turn confers the particular psychic abilities associated with that chakra. This process is known as
“awakening” or “vivifying” a chakra. This energy is brought up the spine (or the etheric
counterpart thereof) and its final destination is the crown chakra, which, upon successfully reaching, confers
enlightenment, which is the true goal of both yoga and occultism, as well as mysticism. Bringing the kundalini to the
crown chakra is exactly the method by which enlightenment is conferred. This is a well known and well accepted fact in
Eastern cultures in which the yoga tradition is kept alive.
Above I used the word “libido”, a word derived from Freud that loosely translates as “sex
energy”. Libido is kundalini. However, the idea of kundalini is much broader and clearer than Freud’s
concept of libido, so I will now use the word kundalini from here on out.
So with this backgound, let us attempt to give a general explanation, in occult terms, of the effect of hallucinogenic
What seems to be happening during the hallucinogenic experience is that the kundalini is spontaneously activated by
the plant. How this occurs I do not know. I can speculate that probably what happens is that the hallucinogenic
somehow affects the gland system of the body (which is called the endocrine system and includes the adrenal glands,
thyroid, parathyroid, pituitary and pineal glands, among others), not simply the brain. I make this statement about the
endocrine system because occultist often point out the crucial role played by the pineal and pituitary glands in meditative
practices. In a fashion that is very ill defined both scientifically and occultly, these glands play an intimate role in relation
to the kundalini. Unfortunately, not much more than this can be said.
Somehow, the plant confers changes in the endocrine system of the body that result in the stimulation of the kundalini.
The kundalini becomes active in an uncontrolled fashion, which is literally the opposite of yoga in which kundalini is
slowly and painstakingly controlled over years of meditative practices. The onset of alterations in the PSYCHEDELIC
user’s perception corresponds with the onset of the kundalini release. As this energy is released in a
spontaneous and uncontrolled fashion, any number of psychological and subjective events are possible that would be
completely dependent on the circumstances under which the plant was taken. This then is the explanation of Timothy
Leary’s notion of “set and setting”.
Hallucinogenic Plants And Inner Exploration
At this point we have completed our overview of hallucinogenic substances. We’ve briefly mentioned the history,
discussed the subjective effects of these plants, and gone into some detail of scientific and occult explanations of why
these plants do what they do to human beings.
In this last section, I would like to try to tie all of this together in terms of how these plants provide a tool for the
individual interested in exploring his or her own subjectivity, the inner spaces of ones being.
Going off on all the occult chakra theory as I did above has one overridingly important lesson to it, and that is the
realization that hallucinogenics do in one hour what yogis spend their lives trying to accomplish.
The release of the kundalini energy is no small or trivial matter. My friend that I mentioned earlier likes to compare
PSYCHEDELIC and related substances to nuclear bombs. Both are immediate, almost incomprehensively powerful, and
can kill a lot more readily than they can heal. PSYCHEDELIC is something to be respected, if not revered, because it is
indeed a doorway to many divine things. I would not discourage one from taking the plant. However, I do not advocate
the careless use of the plant either. If one is interested in using it as a tool for experiencing realities that current dogma
tells us do not exist, well, I recommend that the explorer exercise respect for this particular tool. And then, as an
explorer, you can see that current dogma is simply wrong.
Another purpose for going off on both scientific and occult theory is to show that there is way more going on here than
meets they eye. In this regard, I have a favourite quote by Leadbeater that says it all: “We must beware of falling
into the fatally common error of supposing that what we see is all there is to see.” PSYCHEDELIC, and
hallucinogenic plants in general, can be used as a tool to give concrete substance to Leadbeater’s statement.
The watchful and attentive hallucinogenic user will learn many things about the hidden worlds that we cannot perceive
with our physical senses, ranging from things as unbelievable as seeing the cells inside your brain, to seeing atoms and
molecules, to readily perceiving abstractions so glorious as to defy your very being, all the way to—dare I say
it—seeing God first hand, and allowing God to talk through your mouth.
On this note, I’d like to end this article with a quote by Aleister Crowley, (taken from “The Book Of
Wisdom Or Folly”) that absolutely captures the spirit of this article:
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