Consciousness Alteration as a Problem-Solving Device:
The Psychedelic Pathway1
John R. Baker, Ph.D.
Yearbook for Ethnomedicine and the Study of Consciousness,
Issue 3, 1994, pp51-89. ©VWB - Verlag für Wissenschaft und Bildung, 1995.
In "normal" states of consciousness, an individual is
able to perceive, interpret, and react to events occurring in
the "real" world. As experience accrues, a person constructs
a "personal universe" to explain the "general universe"
and provide a framework for activity. The idiosyncratic nature
of this framework, however, means that the personal universe will
always be inadequate for explaining the general universe. The
conflicts between the various behaviors and attitudes expected
of a person as a member of a group will also produce tensions
within the personal universe. In "altered" states of
consciousness, the cognitive models which make up the personal
universe may be stripped of the possibility of verification, and
the affective charges attached to these models can be loosened.
In such states, the components of the personal universe become
more tractable to an innate process which can reduce the tension
within the personal universe and the discrepancies between it
and the world. Thus, altering consciousness can be a constructive
activity. In contrast to other methods of voluntarily inducing
alterations in consciousness, psychedelic substances are capable
of rapidly producing "desemanticized" states; when used
in an appropriate manner, they thus represent powerful tools for
restoring individual and group equilibrium.
1. The Role of the Brain in Reality Construction
2. The Mind and Its Relationship To the Brain
3. "Normal" and "Altered" States of Consciousness
4. The Desemanticizing Action of Psychedelic Substances
5. Psychedelics as Problem-Solving Devices
6. Discussion and Conclusions
The near global universality of methods for inducing altered states
of consciousness (BOURGUIGNON 1973:9ff) indicates that
some profound aspect of what it means to be human is addressed
by such states. Indeed, WEIL (1972) has argued that the human
urge to alter consciousness is as innate and powerful as the drive
for food or sex (cf. also SIEGEL 1989). If this is true, then
we could expect such a drive to fulfill an adaptive function as
important as eating or reproduction. In this paper, I will consider
this ubiquitous feature of culture as it relates to a deep-seated
aspect of the human condition: the need to adapt to an ever-changing
world. I will argue that consciousness alteration can help to
uncover and resolve discrepancies between an individual ' s perception
of the world and the world itself. In this sense, consciousness
alteration can be seen as a problem-solving device.
Among all the methods available for altering human consciousness,
perhaps the most radical are those substances commonly referred
to as "hallucinogens" or "psychedelics". The
rapidity of onset and the nature of their effectsand their
lack of toxicitypredispose these compounds for human use (in
fact, the abilities of one of these substances, LSD, to break
down established patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving are
so great that it has been explicitly characterized as "the
problem-solving psychedelic ; STAFFORD & GOLIGHTLY 1967).
In order to more fully understand why psychedelics can be of such
profound constructive importance, however, it is first necessary
to consider the context within which they elicit their effects.
As we shall see, these substances are significant because they
somehow affect the "normal" functions of the brain and/or
its associated nervous system. This in turn leads to drastic changes
in the ways in which the worldboth the world within and the
world withoutis perceived, evaluated, and responded to.
Thus, I shall begin with a discussion of some fundamental questions
having to do with the role which the brain plays with respect
to the world around it. This will lead to a consideration of the
nature of the relationship between the mind and the brain, an
operational definition of which makes it possible to approach
the process of consciousness alteration and to understand how
psychedelic compounds affect consciousness. This in turn permits
some general principles to be advanced as to why consciousness
alterationincluding but not limited to that produced by psychedelic
substancescan be seen as a problem-solving device.
My intention is to point a way towards a more all-inclusive view
of consciousness alteration in general and psychedelics in particular.
While the model presented herein necessarily represents a simplified
view, it does suggest possibilities for superseding and integrating
the dramaticbut nevertheless provincialinsights offered
by neurophysiology, psychiatry, evolutionary biology, and ethnology
alone. It is a tenet of anthropology, the holistic study of human
beings, that activities which exhibit cross-cultural commonalities
may reflect "precultural", i.e., biological or "hard-wired"
features of our species. Such features are often referred to as
"human universals" (cf. BROWN 1991). Human biological
universals, however, are manifested through idiosyncratic cultural
institutions (MALINOWSKI 1944:91ff)
Thus, the extensive and cosmopolitan use of psychedelic substances
(DOBKIN DE RIOS 1990; FURST 1990) should indeed be symptomatic
of some fundamental human needs. As a result, any cross-cultural
similarities in the manners in which psychedelic substances are
used and in the effects they elicit may be expected to point not
only to intraspecific similarities in the biological substrates
they are affecting (especially the brain), but also to certain
intrinsic suprabiological (i.e., psychological, social, and/or
religio-philosophical) human needs.
A number of reasons have been advanced to explain why humans use
psychoactive compounds. WEIL (1972:17-38) surveyed a variety of
methods for inducing altered states and concluded that periodically
escaping from "ordinary, ego-centered consciousness"
may help the individual in his or her psychic development. SIEGEL
(1989:310ff) described many drug users' activities as self-medication,
and argued that psychoactive drugs can be considered "adaptogens
when they are used to help a person adjust to the psychological
or physical changes which they experience. More recently, BLATTER
(1993) has delineated seven functions of drug use, including hedonistic/recreational,
identity-building and group-cohesive, compensational, medical,
religious, economic, and political functions. The function that
is being discussed in the present paperconsciousness alteration
as a problem-solving deviceis one which accords with WEIL'S
and SIEGEL'S views and cross-cuts several of BLATTER's functions,
in particular the identity-building/group-cohesive, the medical,
and the religious. The end effect of this process can be characterized
as "re-creational (cf. STAFFORD 1985) because it can serve
to reduce the discrepancies between an individual's interpretation
of the world and the world itself.
1. The Role of the Brain in Reality Construction
One need shared by humans and all other animals is to construct
a reality within which to live. To understand this, it is useful
to think of animals as "predatory behavior machines"
(PANTIN 1968:156). Regardless of whether it derives its sustenance
from plants or from other animals, every animal must interact
with the world. If, for example, one animal detects another animal
in its proximity, then it must make assessments about that other
animal: Could I eat it? Could it eat me? Could I mate with it?
Might it take potential mates away from me? and so on. It must
also estimate the distance to the other animal, and it must, based
upon such assessments, determine a course of action for itself.
Should it move towards the other animal, or move away? Or is the
other animal irrelevant?
Clearly, the outcome of this process can mean the difference between
life and death. But the information that any animal has available
for making such assessments is limited, and the abilities of an
animal to determine a course of action for itself are thus limited
To a neurophysiologist, the simplest type of interaction that
an animal can have with the environment is the reflex. Here, a
signal traveling along a sensory (afferent) neuron evokes a signal
response in a postsynaptic motor (efferent) neuron, resulting
in a muscular and/or endocrine response to the environment. Reflex
responses to the environment are wired into every animal, and
serve to control the "automatic" processes of that animal.
Yet while certain functions of some organisms are indeed regulated
by such simple two neuron systems, higher animalsincluding
humanspossess an intermediate network (NAUTA & FEIRTAG
1979) consisting of additional neurons located both physically
and operationally between the afferent fibers that bring in sensory
data and the efferent fibers that carry out motor responses. Some
of these neurons regulate internal bodily processes, e.g., the
pulse rate, the processes of digestion and elimination, and breathing
(see, e.g., COLERIDGE & COLERIDGE 1991).
As mentioned above, however, many of an animal's activities have
to do with things taking place outside its body, events which
may have a greater or lesser significance for that animal. Thus,
another important function of the intermediate network is to process
data relating to events occurring in the external world. In turn,
the outcomes yielded by this processing can lead to changes in
the automatic internal functions of the body. For example, it
has long been recognized that the perception of danger can lead
to an increase in the heart rate, changes in the peristaltic activity
of the digestive organs, and the excretion of specific endogenously
produced substancesall of which serve to prepare the individual
to react to that danger (CANNON 1914).
In humans (as in other animals), the brainthe most complex
component of the intermediate networkcontains no sensory neurons.
As a consequence, it receives no sensory information about its
own functioning. In a very real sense, then, it stands apart from
and between the internal environment of the body and the external
environment that is the world, and its essential task is to 'integrate
(SHERRINGTON 1947) the two.
Current estimates suggest that the human brain contains some one
trillion cells. Of these cells, the vast majority provide structural
and material support to the one hundred billion or so neurons
that are actually involved in information transmission and processing
(FISCHBACH 1992:51). Clearly, the intermediate network of humans
is a formidable device. This notwithstanding, the task of the
human brain with respect to the world around it is ultimately
no different that the tasks faced by an ant, or an antelope, or
a lion: to enable the organism to function within a universe that
it will never be able to truly comprehend. As Vernon Mountcastle
has so succinctly noted, the reason behind this is as profound
as it is inescapable:
Each of us lives within the universethe prisonof his own
brain. Projecting from it are millions of fragile sensory nerve
fibers, in groups uniquely adapted to sample the energetic states
of the world around us: heat, light, force and chemical composition.
That is all we ever know of it directly; all else is
logical inference (MOUNTCASTLE 1975:131; emphasis MOUNTCASTLE's).
It is this process of inferring what is going on in the world
outside the brain that I shall refer to here as "reality
construction" (cf. BERGER & LUCKMANN 1967)
Reality construction takes place when the neurons of the intermediate
network develop an interpretation ofor more precisely, a hypothesis
aboutthe sensory information coming in from the interoceptors
(which provide information about the internal environment of the
body) and the exteroceptors (which provide information about the
world outside the body).
The information being provided to the brain, however, is of only
limited utility for this task, for it has already undergone some
processing since it left the receptor sites. In humans, all sensory
neurons synapse with other neurons before they ever reach the
brain, and the information they are carrying tends to be bundled,
filtered, and converted every time this occurs (cf. HUBEL 1988).
In this way, the vast amount of information which the senses are
picking up at any one moment can be checked for its relevance
and reduced to a manageable mass. Depending upon the nature and
the significance of the information, an affective charge may be
also attached to this interpretation before it is consigned to
a subdomain of the brain known as memory.
It is inevitable that information will be lost in this process,
and one criterion which the intermediate network uses to determine
whether afferent data will be shunted along to the next processing
level concerns the relative significance of that data. For example,
the signals originating in the pressure-sensitive receptors of
your buttocks is usually screened out of awareness once you have
sat down. Similarly, the sensations from the clothes on your body
tend to diminish as the day goes onunless you sense that you
are too warm or too cold, or that your trousers are too tight.
To compensate for the fact that the intermediate network's ability
to process information is much less than the amount of potentially
available information, all levels of the nervous system are designed
to habituate to repetitive information, i.e., signals coming in
from individual afferent neurons tend to be filtered out by subsequent
neurons if the information they are conveying is redundant for
too long a period (EVANS & PIGGINS 1963). One upshot of this
is that new information which is recognized as having a similarity
to previously encountered information will tend to be processed
more quickly than non-recognizable information (especially if
that information has been highly relevant in the individual's
recent past; see ATEMA & DERBY 1981; FREEMAN 1981). The counterpart
to the tendency to habituate is that the nervous system is sensitive
to noveltiesto changes in the status quo.
A short example should suffice to illustrate this point. Learning
to drive a car is a process fraught with anticipation and oftentimes
not a little trepidation. At first, a car may seem like a large,
untamable beast. The student driver is acutely aware of everything
he or she does, and the tasks of steering, coordinating the gas
and brake pedals, and watching out for all those other vehicles
occupies most if not all of a person's attention. But things change
with experience, and sooner or later it becomes possible to even
carry on a conversation while driving. Yet whenever new tasks
are introduced (such as learning to use a manual transmission,
or to drive in the snow), attention will (usually) once again
be more closely focused on the task at hand. Ultimately, however,
the task of driving becomes as habitual as such previously learned
tasks as walking, riding a bicycle, or swimming, and it is then
possible to drive for hours without ever really needing to pay
any great attention to the process. Instead, a driver can eagerly
anticipate the destination, muse over some past event, or simply
enjoy the day. Under normal circumstances, the task of driving
only becomes immediate once more when another novelty arises such
as having to drive on the other side of the road than one is used
But even when our now experienced driver is happily daydreaming
as she plows her way through the freeways of Los Angeles, she
will (hopefully) still take notice when she sees that a large,
dark shape is suddenly looming up from the right. Has that truck
suddenly decided to change lanes? Now, all daydreaming is put
on hold until the situation can be assessed and a response carried
It is not difficult to comprehend why the ability to readily shift
attention from one set of data to another and to quickly provide
an assessment of the new data would have conferred great selective
advantage upon any organism able to do so. But the need to evaluate
a situation as quickly as possible also means that the brain will
often be called upon to provide an interpretation before it has
detailed information about an event, and the more urgent the need
to come up with a hypothesis about the world, the more likely
it is that only a minimum of information will be evaluated before
a model is generated. For example, our driver does not need to
know whether the truck is being driven by a man or a woman (although
knowledge of this fact would be useful in selecting an epithet
for the truck driver), or what state the truck is registered in,
or what the truck contains. All she needs to know is that a truck
is pulling over, and this information, together with information
about the relative positions and speeds of the other vehicles
on the road, should suffice to allow her to decide how to avoid
Hypotheses, of course, can be wrong, and not every interpretation
which the brain comes up with will be "correct". Stopping
at night at a roadside cafe, our driver might, for example, recognize
a rope lying by the side of the road as a snake if her glance
is too quick, the lighting too poor, or she has an inordinate
fear of snakes (cf. KILPATRICK 1957). Only by continued (sensory)
observation and/or (motor) manipulation of the object in question
would she be able to check the validity of her initial interpretation.
These examples illustrate two important points: 1) hypotheses
(mental models) must be checked by comparing the predictions they
generate against subsequent afferent data related to those predictions,
and 2) affective charges vary between models. Some models carry
a greater affective charge than others, so that these may occasionally
"force themselves around" certain sensory data. These
two points will be taken up again below.
Reality construction, then, can be conceived of as a process of
generating and subsequently testing hypotheses concerning the
meaning of sets of sensory information. Once data has been assigned
a meaninga hypothesis has been generateda response can take
place. Our driver's truck does not need to be appreciated in all
its "truckness", it must merely be interpreted as a
moving object of a particular size and a response must be generated
on this basis. Thus, while any internalized model of reality is
an abstraction, it is a significant abstraction: "In everyday
life the practical acceptance and unconscious interpretation of
sense impressions is for all of us our essential link with a realm
recognized as external" (HINSHELWOOD 1961:6). In summary,
the exigencies of living in the world mean that every "predatory
behavior machine" must continually make assumptions about
the meaning of the sensory data it is being provided with, assumptions
which will allow it to actively approach the world around it.
This process, known as cognition, has been characterized as
"a structuring activity in which the organism seeks to establish
a relatively stable pattern in which to act"(FEARING 1954:62).
As FEARING points out, this occurs as the organism
imposes from within patterns on the world that is without.
In doing so, it constructs a reality which enables it to carry
out the business of its life. At the same time, this idiosyncratically
constructed realityits personal universewill invariably
provide an inadequate model of the worldthe general universe.
2. The Mind and Its Relationship To the Brain
Homo sapiens' enormous abilities to construct realities
appear to be a result of substantial increases in certain brain
areas relative to other mammals, including the Pongidae (unpublished
data of STEPHAN et al. 1988, cited in ECCLES 1989:146). These
same increases may also be responsible for a further human design
feature: the mind.
Many contemporary neuroscientists (e.g., BUNGE 1977; MACKAY 1982;
SPERRY 1980; SZENTÁGOTHAI 1982; and especially ECCLES 1970;
cf. also POPPER & ECCLES 1977) view the mind as a higher-level
property of the brain which "emerges"
when brains attain a certainas yet non-
understoodlevel of complexity. This higher-level property appears
to be associated at least in part with the prefrontal cortex (ECCLES
1989:229ff), and hence with associational and cognitive
functions. This would suggest that at least part of the mind's
function is also related to reality construction, a notion that
has been echoed by some students of the mind. In the simplistic
model of SHALLICE (1972), for example, the mind functions to weigh
priorities and then select an "action system" which
defines its current goals. At the same time, the mind also stores
information pertaining to the reasons behind its selection of
that particular action system.
An organism that is able to commit to memory the interpretations
it makes of sensory data as well as a knowledge of the effects
of the motor responses it selected in response to that data and
which can later recall these various action systems will clearly
enjoy a tremendous advantage over organisms that rely more heavily
on "instinctual" responses to the world. While it has
long been recognized that insects (FRISCH 1965) and even paramecia
(FRENCH 1940) are capable of developing responses to the environment
based upon events they have personally experienced, the birds
and the mammals exhibit an extraordinary ability to learn, an
ability which is mirrored especially in the mammals' success vis-a-vis
the other animals. Animals which can learn from their conspecifics,
moreover, either by watching or by being told, enjoy an even greater
advantage because they can share their acquired models of reality,
i.e., they have culture (cf. BONNER 1980:9). Among other
things, being a cultural animal means that mental models for interpreting
sets of sensory data can be learned in anticipation of the first
occasion on which that data is encountered. This ability is of
central importance in understanding the human use of psychedelic
As discussed above, those functions of the brain which (at least
in the case of humans) were presumably subjected to the greatest
selective pressures concern its abilities to develop models of
the world which it then arbitrarily imposes upon the world. Because
mind is a property which appears to be associated with neo-cortical
activity, it seems likely that it is also intimately involved
in the process of reality construction. But I would suggest that
the mind plays a higher-level role in this activity, for it is
able to compare global representations of incoming sensory data
to at least some of the learned models stored in the brain and,
when necessary, to willfully initiate steps to obtain more information
to find, learn, or develop a hypothesis to explain that sensory
We may, then, conceive of mind as an active agent which
serves to increase the organism's ability to respond to the world.
In the words of HARRY JERISON (1985:10):
"mind in man and other animals is a consequence of the enormous
processing capacity of the brain and is part of the solution of
the problem of putting that capacity to work".
The mind evaluates those products of the brain that are made available
to it and compares these against previously constructed models
that are stored as memories in the brain. When there are no models
available, the mind can make an active effort to construct them.
This view implies that somewhere within the brain, certain products
of brain processing are made available to this higher-level system
or, stated from a different perspective, the mind gains awareness
of these, and it then becomes able to affect these, to supervene
in these, and thus to initiate activity.
ECCLES (1982), borrowing a term from SHERRINGTON, has referred
to that portion of the brain which is accessible to the mind,
and upon which the mind can act, as the "liaison brain".
As he noted, not all of the brain's products are available to
the mind, and the mind must continually scan those products it
is being provided to determine which of them should be given its
This manner of considering the relationship between brain and
mind is known as "Interactionism".
Although there are various alternative formulations
of the Interactionist view (compare, e.g., POPPER & ECCLES
1977 to SPERRY 1980), they agree on the essential statement that
certain brain products are made available to a higher-order propertythe
mindand that the mind can in turn exert an influence upon at
least some functions of the brain. In this view, just as the physicochemical
processes of the cells are the prerequisite for the phenomenon
called "life", brain processes are the prerequisite
||Figure 1: Information flow diagram illustrating the levels at
which afferent (sensory) data is processed and efferent (motor)
responses are initiated The mind can only become "aware"
of information via the liaison brain. The personal universe, the
idiosyncratic interpretation of the general universe which the
individual has constructed during his lifetime, is stored in memory.
See text for further explanation (adapted from ECCLES 1970:167).
From an evolutionary perspective, the individual 's need to survive
and reproduceboth outward-directed activitieshas priority
over all of its other behaviors, for only in this way will its
genes be passed on to the next generation. Thus, it seems likely
that the type of brain-mind relationship that has had primacy during
the course of evolution is a condition in which the mind is being
provided with "adequate" information about external
events, is able to "correctly" evaluate this information, can
decide upon "realistic"" responses to those events, and can
use subsequent information to modify or change previously developed
Figure 1 summarizes the discussion thus far by illustrating some
of the ways that incoming sensory information can be processed
and motor responses initiated. The simplest, as we have seen,
is the reflex arc, an essentially "hard-wired" pathway
permitting only very limited subsequent modification. Above this
level are processing loops regulating behaviors that have been
learned during the course of the individual's life. These include
such activities as walking, driving, swimming, playing a musical
instrument, etc. While it may have been necessary to pay a great
deal of attention to these activities as they were being learned,
once adequate models of these (motor and cognitive) processes
are developed and stored in memory, then the activities are carried
out more or less automatically. The effects of motor learning
are regulated by sub-cortical (including cerebellar) mechanisms,
while cognitive models entail cortical processing. But none of
them, once learned, require the active participation of the mind,
which stands apart from both the products of cognition and their
Following ECCLES (1970:167), the mind is shown as consisting of
three distinct components. "Outer Sense" is concerned
with the outward-directed products of perception, while "Inner
Sense" is an aspect of mind which monitors the internal status
of the body by considering emotional signals, checking memories,
recalling plans, etc. A useful way of distinguishing between "Outer
Sense" and "Inner Sense" is that the information
being provided to the former is subject to consensual validation,
while the information being made available to the latter is not.
The third aspect of mind is the "Self", which ECCLES
(1982a:66) has referred to as "the basis of our unity as
an experiencing being throughout our whole lifetime".
The personal universethe idiosyncratic interpretation of the
worldis located within the memory of the individual. In turn,
the individual is located within a greater reality, the general
universe. The distinctive position of the mind relative to the
brain in this figure is intended for heuristic purposes and has
no ontological implications. In this static representation, the
dynamic relationship between the liaison brain and the mind is
indicated by the fact that not all of the possible channels between
the two are open. This is intended to illustrate that not all
of the products of the liaison brain are made available to the
mind at any one moment, and that the mind is continually scanning
the liaison brain for information that it considers relevant.
Based upon this conception of the roles of and relationships between
the mind and the brain, I propose the following axiomatic definitions:
"consciousness" is an active principle of a mind that
is interacting with a brain. "Unconsciousness",
then, is a condition in which no such interaction is taking place.
"Awareness" is defined as that threshold at which the
mind is provided with information about brain products. Furthermore,
since everyday experience demonstrates that the mind is only able
to focus on a small amount of the material it is being provided
with at any one moment (i.e., the mind works in a serial fashion),
we may define the term "attention" to refer to the mind's
disposition to actively select and focus on a subset of those
brain products which reach awareness.
While this view of consciousness may appear unusual, it is a heuristically
valuable way of cutting through the Gordian knot of the "ultimate
solipsism" of science (DOTY 1975:791). There is no shortage
of definitions of consciousness (a fact which has been lamented
for decades; cf. PERRY 1904:282), and it could be argued that
there is no need for another. Yet as DAVID OAKLEY (1985:xii) has
recently stated, "progress in theories of consciousness will
be slow until a conceptual framework which at least diminishes
the semantic confusions is adopted". The definitions proposed
above represent an attempt to answer this, while the dynamic view
of the relationship between brain and mind which is being outlined
here opens the door for a clearer understanding of the ways in
which their interaction can be affected. The position being argued
in this paper is that psychedelic substances are such powerful
problem-solving devices precisely because they alter the mind-brain
interaction in such a manner that the mind may no longer be able
to actively intervene in brain events, effectively rendering it
a spectator of the information which the brain is providing it.
3. "Normal" and "Altered" States of Consciousness
The theses that one of the brain's primary functions is reality
construction and that the mind is an emergent property of the
brain involved at least in part in the same task leads to the
question of what is the "normal" nature of the relationship
between the two. Evolutionary considerations suggest an answer
to this question.
Reality construction is essentially an outward-directed process,
i.e., it is primarily involved with developing hypotheses about
the meaning of the data being fed to the brain by afferent fibers
originating in the exteroceptors. To be sure, from time to time
unusual or relevant data (such as pain signals) from the interoceptors
will attract the attention of the mind, but most of the data the
mind is made aware of concerns the world which begins at the outer
surface of the skin. This is not surprising, for, as we have seen,
an animal must continually monitor the world around it, make hypotheses
about what it is experiencing, and check on the "correctness"
of these hypotheses.
Following TART (1980), we may refer to this normal pattern of
brain-mind functioning as the "baseline" state of consciousness.
In humans, one of the chief attributes of this stateand one
of the characteristics which distinguishes it from other states
of consciousnessis that it is built upon consensus. In the
words of BERGER & LUCKMANN (1967:23):
The reality of everyday life... [is] an intersubjective world,
a world that I share with others. This intersubjectivity sharply
differentiates everyday life from other realities.... I am alone
in the world of my dreams, but I know that the world of everyday
life is as real to others as it is to myself. Indeed, I cannot
exist in everyday life without continually interacting and communicating
Personal experience tells us that the dream state differs starkly
from the baseline state. While dreaming, the dreamer perceives
himself to be actively engaged in a myriad of activities, yet
an outside observer watching the dreamer will typically remark
that little if any corresponding physical activity is occurring.
Clearly, the active principle that is consciousness
is subject to change, and such changes are a natural part of everyday
life. What is more, we all know other, less dramatic changes which
we undergo as well, such as the drowsiness which sets in after
a large meal, the excitation which occurs in conjunction with
sexual activity, and the "white line fever" which can
occur during protracted periods of long-distance driving. Consciousness
is clearly a dynamic event, and it thus seems more accurate to
speak of it as a process rather than a state. How then can this
process be affected?
In a now classic paper, ARNOLD LUDWIG (1966) suggested that there
are five essential means for inducing alterations of consciousness:
(1) by reducing exteroceptive stimulation and/or motor activity;
(2) by increasing exteroceptive stimulation and/or motor activity
and/or emotion; (3) by increasing alertness or mental involvement;
(4) by decreasing alertness or relaxing the critical faculties;
and (5) by changes in the body chemistry or neurophysiological
The first four of these pertain to reality construction per se.
That is, (1) and (2) refer to shifts in the relative amounts of
afferent and efferent data which require processing and to the
affective charges associated with that data, while (3) and (4)
pertain to the quality of the processing which that data undergoes.
In contrast, LUDWIG'S category (5), which includes such procedures
as fasting, dehydration, hyperventilation, seizures, and the use
of certain drugs, encompasses procedures which alter consciousness
by affecting the very physicochemical processes which make it
SILVERMAN (1968), building upon LUDWIG's ideas, suggested a further
refinement of the latter's categories (3) and (4). He noted that
an individual's "attentional style" can vary with respect
to the relative intensity of a stimulus, the extensiveness of
the search which an individual makes of his stimulus environment,
and of the field articulation of that individual s attention.
Similarly, POPE & SINGER (1980) noted that consciousness ranges
over a continuum between a public, consensual extreme to a private,
These conceptions of mental activity all recall ECCLES (in POPPER
& ECCLES 1977:361-370) view (cf. Figure 1) that the mind serially
focuses its more or less limited attention on the products which
the brain is making it aware of, products which it obtains through
both Outer Sense and Inner Sense. They also emphasize the dynamic
nature of the interaction between the brain and the mind and the
active role which both play in reality construction.
Much of the time, the external world offers enough novel information
to absorb most of the mind's attention. However, at certain times
(such as when not enough novelty is available), the mind may shift
its focus to more private domains, including the inner world of
fantasies, hopes, momentary concerns, etc.
This distinction between information deriving from the outer world
and that originating in the inner world is of great utility in
understanding states of consciousness, and corresponds to a dichotomy
of outward-directed and inward-directed modes of physiological
and psychological operation which differ with respect to the relative
roles played by the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches of
the central nervous system in each. This dichotomy was first demonstrated
in a series of experiments in which electrodes were implanted
into the midbrains of cats so that the effects of electrical stimulation
of small groups of cells could be observed. Stimulation of some
areas caused previously awake cats to curl up and go to sleep
(HESS 1949), whereas stimulation of other areas elicited defensive
reactions, including growling, hissing, and piloerection (HESS
& BRUGGER 1943). While such defensive reactions are normal
when exhibited in the presence of an exogenous stimulus (such
as a dog), it was found that provoking these responses endogenously
by electrical stimulation led the animals to direct them towards
their handlers or towards other persons that were present, in
spite of the fact that these had done nothing to overtly provoke
Their work led HESS & BRUGGER (1943) to suggest that the sensory
and motor fibers responsible for the elicitation and evaluation
of such responses are linked within the midbrain, which in turn
is connected to higher-level cortical structures. While cortical
assessments of incoming afferent data normally elicit subcortically
mediated responses, in this case artificial subcortical stimulation
was subsequently assigned a cortical interpretation, primarily
via visual sensory data. This illustrated the interrelationship
between the two levels, whereby the cortical level is responsible
for assessing events in the external world and the subcortical
level for carrying out the responses selected on the basis of
As a result of these findings, HESS (1949) proposed a distinction
between "ergotropic" and "trophotropic" responses.
Ergotropic responses are activated by sensory information pertaining
to events occurring in the outer world and information coming
in from endogenous afferent fibers (interoceptors). Typical ergotropic
responses include hypertension, pupillodilation, an increase in
respiratory activity, etc., i.e., sympathetic arousal. The trophotropic
response is manifested as a general decrease in the organism's
ability to perform physical activity or otherwise encounter the
outer world, and is characterized by such typical parasympathetic
responses as pupilloconstriction, hypotension, a drop in respiratory
activity, etc. The trophotropic response serves to protect the
organism against overexertion and helps facilitate restorative
The dichotomy between these two general types of physiological
functioning led DEIKMAN (1971) to distinguish between an "active
mode" and a "passive mode" of consciousness. In
the active mode, an individual is able to manipulate the environment,
both literally and with respect to reality construction (in DEIKMAN'S
view, language is "the very essence of the action mode"
[1971:482]). The active mode is directed towards the external
world, and its most essential function is to ensure immediate
biological survival. In contrast, during the passive mode the
individual primarily "intakes" the environment with
respect to both stimuli and nutrients. While this mode dominates
during infancy, its importance diminishes as the child learns
to act withinand upon-its world. But the passive mode does
not disappear as the active mode is developed; instead, it becomes
the latter's complement with respect to both the physical (e.g.,
through sleep) and psychological (e.g., in insight learning) domains.
ROLAND FISCHER (1971, 1975, 1976), building upon the erdichotomy,
proposed viewing consciousness states along a continuum whose
center is the baseline state. States of consciousness which are
primarily trophotropic are located along the "perception-meditation"
arm of the continuum, while states of consciousness characterized
by ergotropic stimulation are located along the "perception-hallucination"
arm. To FISCHER, the baseline state is that condition in which
"perception" can take place; i.e., in which an individual
is able to deal with events in the external world and continually
validate the correctness of his perceptions of the world. According
to FISCHER, an individual has essentially two basic ways of verifying
its picture of reality: approach and withdrawal. In other words,
he must make a motor effort to confirm his perceptions. While
this often occurs "automatically" (e.g., through saccadic
eye movements), it can also entail actual physical manipulation
of the object in question.
The baseline state is thus characterized by a relatively low sensory
to motor (S/M) ratio (FISCHER 1971:898). Changing this ratio conveys
one from the realm of consensus reality and the possibility of
reality validation, so that a person begins to experience increasingly
non-consensual realms. States in which there is a high S/M ratio,
i.e., in which there is a great deal of sensory information that
cannot be validated by motor activity, are by definition hallucinatory
(cf. BACHINI, VILLAR, PRIETO & AUSTT 1965). In contrast, states
in which motor activity is at a minimum and sensory input tends
towards stereotypy (so that it is increasingly excluded from awareness)
lie along the perception-meditation continuum.
Echoing HESS and BRUGGER'S work, FISCHER argued that it is the
"cortical interpretation attached to subcortical activity"
(1976:5) which gives altered states of consciousness their subjective
meaning. As the S/M ratio shifts away from that of the baseline
state, the relationship between subcortical activity and cortical
interpretation changes as well. In states lying along the perception-meditation
continuum, the low level of external and internal arousal essentially
means that there is little information to interpret. In contrast,
the high S/M ratio characteristic of states along the perception-hallucination
continuum implies that the mind may experience increasing difficulty
in providing an interpretation for the information being made
available to it at least in part because it becomes increasingly
difficult to determine whether that information pertains to events
occurring in the external world or whether it instead arises from
within the body/brain. In such states, "man's ability to
verify with his hands and feet an experience as 'real' is gradually
inhibited and ultimately blocked" (FISCHER 1975:233). Thus,
even when the mind is able to draw upon the models stored in the
brain for interpreting the information it is receiving, it will
generally be unable to verify whether any particular model actually
provides a correct hypothesis for an event, for normal motor responses
are not available for validating the model.
When the mind is unable to verify the correctness of its interpretations
of sensory data, the affective charges attached to these interpretations
can be decoupled. As a result, at least some cognitive models
may be seen in a different affective light. Sometimes highly charged
material can become manifest when the cognitive models which overlay
it are suspended (cf. GROF 1976). At other times, previously mundane
mental models may become quite significant: "Accepted, normal,
even trivial phenomena, seen under the influence of LSD, frequently
assume dramatically increased or important new perspectives: a
stack of cups can become a beautiful and meaningful visual experience"
(SMITH & ROSE 1967-68:119). Or the mind may begin to survey
its models with more or less complete detachment, almost as if
they were pictures hanging in a gallery:
When the level of arousalsympathetic (ergotropic) excitationis
raised, either naturally, or through the administration of psychoactive
drugs of the LSD, psilocybin, mescaline, ketamine, or PCP-type,
everything experienced becomes equally meaningful. A grain
of sand is as meaningful as anything else in the Universe (FISCHER
This decoupling of cognitive models from their normal affective
charges is of central importance for understanding the constructive
potential of consciousness alteration and will be discussed in
more detail below.
While as LUDWIG (1966) noted, there are a variety of ways to dislodge
oneself from the baseline state, in the present context we are
primarily concerned with a set of methods subsumed under his category
(5): "Changes in the body chemistry or neurophysiological
functioning". Common to many of these methods is the fact
that they are induced by a special type of exogenous agent often
referred to as an "hallucinogen".
The experiences such substances produce are
characterized in part by the presence of a great deal of sensory
information which cannot be validated via motor activity. Under
such conditions, the mind can often do little more than observe
the brain products which reach its awareness.
4. The Desemanticizing Action of Psychedelic Substances
While the major psychedelic agents vary somewhat with respect
to their chemical structures and effects, all are structurally
similar to the neurotransmitters serotonin, norepinephrine, and
dopamine. Although this fact suggests promising avenues of investigation,
we are still a long way from understanding precisely how these
compounds affect neurotransmission at these receptor sites (SNYDER
1986:195-196). Lacking an adequate biochemical model, many researchers
have preferred to study hallucinogenic compounds as well as other
drugs by investigating their phenomenological effects.
In contrast to other psychoactive substances, however, the effects
of hallucinogenic substances are extremely difficult to discern
without human subjects. Because animals are unable to provide
subjective reports, research protocols of animal experiments have
tended to focus on changes in behavior. For example, under the
influence of LSD, fish were observed to swim in strange ways,
mice to exhibit disturbances in their licking behavior, and cats
to exhibit increased piloerection and salivation (HOFMANN 1982:37-43).
One high school student who injected spiders with LSD found that
they "wove erratic webs and showed psychotic behavior similar
to schizophrenia" (reported in Chemistry 1968). While
these striking outwardly visible effects suggest similarly dramatic
internal effects, there is no way to precisely delineate these.
Only human experimentation can provide this information.
The key role which the human subject plays in such work is underscored
by ALBERT HOFMANN'S attempts to isolate the active principle(s)
of Psilocybe mexicana, the teonanacatl ("flesh
of the gods") of Aztec Mexico. HOFMANN, who was enlisted
for this project after workers in other laboratories were unable
to discover which substances in the mushrooms were provoking the
profound effects, quickly realized that the insight he had gained
during his previous work with LSD applied to this task as well,
namely, that animal testing of the various plant extracts which
he prepared could be of only limited utility, and that proper
testing must involve humans. As a result, he (and several of his
colleagues) carried out this potentially risky task themselves,
eventually isolating the indole alkaloids psilocybin and psilocin
The necessity to consider subjective reports when attempting to
understand the effects of any psychoactive compound is
reflected in the choice of terms which have been used to describe
such substances. For example, Louis LEWIN, one of the first researchers
of the modern era to offer a systematic classification of psychoactive
agents, suggested that there were five basic types of "betaubenden
und erregenden Genussmittel" ("sedative and stimulating
drugs"; LEWIN 1981 :47-48): "Euphorica" (e.g.,
opium and its derivatives, cocaine); "Inebriantia" (e.g.,
alcohol, chloroform, ether); "Hypnotica" (e.g., chloral
hydrate, kava); "Exzitantia" (e.g., tobacco, betel,
and caffeine-containing substances); and the "Phantastica"
(e.g., peyote, hemp, fly agaric, and certain of the Solanaceae).
ALBERT HOFMANN (in SCHULTES & HOFMANN 1980:13) revised LEWIN'S
schemata slightly, distinguishing between "Analgetica and
Euphorica" (including opium and cocaine), "Sedatives"
(reserpine), "Hypnotica" (kava kava), and "Hallucinogens
or Psychotomimetica" (peyote, marijuana, etc.). The more
recent classification of ALEXANDER SHULGIN (1992) differentiates
between "Stimulants" (e.g., coca, coffee, betel nut,
tobacco), "Intoxicants" (e.g., alcohol, ether, chloroform,
N2O, barbiturates), "Depressants" (e.g., opium and its
derivatives, chlorpromazine, meperidine), "Deliriants"
(e.g., certain solanaceous plants, ketamine, ibogaine, PCP), "Entactogens"
(MDMA), and "Hallucinogens" (e.g., peyote, Cannabis,
teonanacatl, LSD, DMT).
While these schemata differ in the manners in which they relate,
e.g., tobacco, alcohol, or cocaine, all three recognize that "hallucinogenic"
substances (LEWIN'S "phantastica")
constitute a unique group profoundly different
from other drugs. One word often used to describe these substances,
"psychedelic" ("mind manifesting '), was coined
by HUMPHRY OSMOND (1964 :148) in response to another term
that was in common usage during the 1950s: "psychotomimetic"
(referring to the apparent abilities of these substances to mimic
certain types of mental illness).
The possibility that LSD could
elicit psychotic states was suggested in one of the earliest articles
to discuss the drug. There, WERNER STOLL (1947:315) described
LSD as a "Spurenstoff, der akuten Psychosen von exogenen
Reaktionstyp erzeugt" (a "trace substance which produces
acute psychoses of an exogenous reaction type"). After LSD
became generally available to the therapeutic community, the "model
psychosis" paradigm led many health care workers and other
professionals interested in the human psyche to take these drugs
in order to gain insight into the inner workings of the abnormal
mind and also led certain agencies within the United States government
to investigate the possible use of such compounds in psychological
warfare (a move that would eventually help launch the so-called
"psychedelic revolution" of the 1960s; see STAFFORD
1985:221; STEVENS 1987:78-84).
The model psychosis paradigm and other, similar theoretical models
were ultimately abandoned as researchers came to realize that
drugs such as LSD do not produce uniform effects in every person
who uses them. "In fact the effects can be so varied that
reading different workers' accounts it is not always apparent
that they are studying the same substance" (BENNET 1968:1220).
As CHARLES TART noted:
what were considered to be drug-specific effects... have been
found to be a mixture of drug plus psychological purposes.
Indeed, one could argue... that the major psychedelic drugs have
no specific psychological effects, they simply produce
phenomena in accordance with the expectations of [subjects] and
experimenters, acting as a sort of psychological "amplifier"
(TART 1972:386; emphasis TART'S).
STANISLAV GROF (1976:26-28) analyzed records of over thirty-eight
hundred LSD sessions without being able to determine a single
specific pharmacological effect of LSD, i.e., a drug-related symptom
which appeared every time the drug was administered. Because of
this, he attributed the extraordinary assortment of physiological
effects he observed to a "chemical activation of psychodynamic
matrices in the unconscious" (1976:28). These same psychodynamics
can also influence the amount of a psychedelic substance required
to elicit the desired effects (1976:22).
The central role which psychological factors play in psychedelic
sessions was explicated in the "set" and "setting"
model. The importance of set and setting was first pointed out
by TIMOTHY LEARY and his colleagues at Harvard. Set refers to
the personality of the person ingesting the drug and the expectations
for the experience; setting refers to the conditions under and
the physical surroundings in which the session takes place (LEARY,
METZNER & ALPERT 1964:103-107; for a more detailed formulation
with clinical relevance, see DOWNING 1972).
The recognition of the pivotal roles of set and setting helped
to clarify many of the findings from the initial period of work
with LSD and other related substances. For example, it became
apparent that the model psychosis approach had taken on self-fulfilling
qualities. The settings of many of these early projectsclinics
in which white-frocked scientists administered batteries of psychological
tests combined with the hypersuggestibility of many persons while
under the influence of psychedelic drugs often provoked psychotic-like
episodes (TART 1972; YENSEN 1985:271). The findings of these studies
contrasted sharply from those in which more supportive and non-threatening
settings were employed (e.g., FREDERKING 1955; ABRAMSON 1976).
Set and setting also helped to explain why adverse reactions sometimes
occurred when illicit drugs (which not infrequently contain impurities;
see CHEEK, NEWELL & JOFFE 1970) were taken under unsupervised
conditions (SMITH & ROSE 1967-68; COHEN 1985), by prepsychotic
or psychotic individuals, and/or in a general climate of legal
repression and paranoia (SMITH & SEYMOUR 1985).
Because the primary effects of psychedelic substances are psychological
rather than physiological, and because the psychological effects
vary from person to person and session to session, the fundamental
effect of LSD (and by extension of the other major psychedelics)
has been described as a "temporary suspension of the mechanisms
which provide structure and stability to man's perception of self-image,
environment, beliefs, and values in the normal state of consciousness"
(McGLOTHLIN & ARNOLD 1971:40), i.e., what I have termed the
To paraphrase FISCHER (1976:5), we can say that psychedelics produce
an acute state in which it is frequently difficultif not impossible-
to provide a cortical interpretation (whether by recalling a previously
acquired model or developing a new one) for subcortical activity.
Sensory data, in effect, becomes meaning-less. While such "desemantication"
(WALLACE 1970:217) can have psychopathological outcomes when an
individual is unaware of the mechanisms responsible (COHEN 1985:293)
or if it is a chronic occurrence, the enormous popularity of hallucinogenic
substances in recent years (STAFFORD 1985) and the widespread
use of various hallucinogenic substances in the past (see, e.g.,
DOBKIN DE RIOS 1977; TORRES et al. 1991) implies that the temporary
suspension of meaningwhen it occurs under the proper circumstancescan
often have positive consequences.
Later models for using LSD as a psychotherapeutic adjuvant explicitly
recognized and made constructive use of the desemanticizing effects
of psychedelic substances. Several paradigms were developed for
such use (see YENSEN 1985 for a detailed discussion). A brief
consideration of the two most influential will be useful in the
In Europe, psychotherapists employing hallucinogenic substances
developed what became known as the "psycholytic" (from
psyche + lysis, the "loosening" or "dissolution"
of the psyche) approach. Its aim was to gradually reveal the tensions
and conflicts within a person (cf., e.g., SANDISON, SPENCER &
WHITELAW 1954; FREDERKING 1955; ABRAMSON 1976; GROF 1976). Such
therapy typically consisted of a series of low to medium doses
(< 200 mcg) of LSD.
Workers using the psycholytic approach felt that the understanding
and resolution of personal conflicts which it permitted were important
factors in the healing process. Eventually, however, a number
of researchers in North America began to suggest that for at least
some patients, the re-exposure to traumatic past events and the
realization of other dynamics responsible for their condition
might result in lower self-esteem, guilt, and other negative effects.
To circumvent this possibility, they developed a regimen in which
a preparatory period of discussions and psychotherapy was followed
by a single large dose (between 300 mcg and 600 mcg) of LSD in
a deliberate attempt to elicit what can be termed a religio-mystical
experience (cf., e.g., SHERWOOD, STOLAROFF & HARMAN 1962;
MOGAR 1972 ). This model became known as the "psychedelic"
approach to psychotherapy.
The use of LSD and other related substances in therapeutic contexts
has provided important evidence supporting the view discussed
above that the brain and the mind function to construct a reality
within which the individual can act and has pointed to the great
role which learned models play in categorizing an individual's
sensory impressions and hence organizing behavior and experience.
For example, STANISLAV GROF'S extensive clinical work led him
to posit the existence of "COEX systems" ("systems
of condensed experience") which can have either positive
or negative affective charges. According to GROF (1976:64), positively
charged COEX systems tend to reflect happy, satisfying experiences
of the individual. In contrast, negatively charged COEX systems
frequently appear to be linked to episodes which were so traumatic
to the individual that the interpretational models based upon
such experiences can subsequently "force themselves around"
later events, causing a person to exhibit neurotic or psychotic
behavior patterns (1976:61-64). The psycholytic approach, which
GROF helped to pioneer, was designed to enable the therapist to
assist the patient to slowly work through the experiences which
had accrued around such interpretational schemata, so that the
patient could eventually gain awareness of, relive, and emotionally
abreact the original "core" experience. Afterwards,
the knowledge of the experience could be reintegrated into the
person's personal universe, permitting a more effective evaluation
In addition to its ability to loosen acquired cognitive structures
with strong affective charges, other evidence indicates that LSD
can aid a person to construct alternative models for even extremely
habituated sets of sensory data. For example, ERIC KAST (reported
in the Journal of the American Medical Association 1964),
who administered LSD to terminal cancer patients, found that the
drug was capable of alleviating pain for up to thirteen days (in
contrast, traditional methods, including morphine, are only effective
for several hours). While many patients reported that they still
had pain, they said that it was no longer important. In interpreting
his findings, KAST stated that LSD "lessens the need to maintain
bodily integrity and produces certain obliterations of the ego
boundaries". This made possible a "reintegration of
the self-image by exclusion of the painful part" (1964:33).
Drug sessions with the dying have typically been structured according
to the psychedelic approach, i.e., the terminal patient ingests
a single, high dose of a drug (GROF & HALIFAX 1978; KURLAND
1985). As with other such sessions, the presession preparation
is an important factor. GROF (in Avorn 1972:87), for example,
noted that patients frequently approach death "with the idea
that all you have in life is of a material nature, and that death
means an end to everything, losing whatever you have, whatever
you are". The drug experiences of many of these patients
led to a mitigation of the negative affective charges attached
to their conceptions of dying, so that following the drug session,
many of the patients were so able to accept their condition that
they began to put their affairs in order, to aid family members
to discuss and accept the approaching bereavement, and to constructively
use the remaining time to settle legal and financial questions.
There is also anecdotal evidence suggesting that learned models
can be involuntarily modified during a psychedelic session. In
one study in which persons who had previously ingested LSD were
asked whether they had changed as a result, one respondent stated
that: "I was unprepared to have my world and moral structure
broken down and it has taken time and much effort to rebuild"
(in McGLOTHLIN & ARNOLD 1971:46). Another subject in the same
study noted that LSD had "subverted my Protestant ethic"
(in McGLOTHLIN & ARNOLD 1971:42). While infrequent within
this sample, such unanticipated outcomes underscore the hazards
involved when a person is given an hallucinogenic substance without
their knowledge. At the same time, these effects also suggest
that the psychedelic experience may provide insight into internal
psychological conflicts which a person might not have even been
aware of and which they would have rather ignored.
The use of psychedelic drugs to gain insight into personal problems
and concerns is also well documented in the ethnographic record.
JAMES FERNANDEZ (1982:476485), discussing the ritual use of iboga
(Tabernanthe iboga, a plant whose primary psychoactive alkaloid
is ibogaine) among the Fang of Gabon, noted that many of his informants
reported that they ingested the drug because of their desire to
discern the source of a witch-related affliction, an illness or
general malaise they were suffering from, or because they were
discontent with the foreign religions being propagated by local
missionaries and were seeking insights into their own traditions.
MARLENE DOBKIN DE RIOS (1972), who conducted fieldwork in Peru
to document the indigenous use of ayahuasca,
noted that the brew was used for a variety
of purposes, including divination, to communicate with the supernatural
world, to cause or protect against witchcraft, to determine the
etiology of and/or treatment for a disease, and for hedonistic
purposes (1972:45). In her own study of ayahuasca healing sessions,
she found that many of her respondents believed that their suffering
had been caused by another person. Although she described such
afflictions as "psychological" or "psychosomatic",
she was very careful to point out that the natives of Peru construct
the etiologies of these ailments differently than Westerners,
for they ascribe many illnesses to the malevolent actions of others.
Thus, illness is not merely an individual responsibility, it is
a social event. DOBKIN DE RIOS also found that most individuals
who used ayahuasca did so in times of acute personal stress, and
their sessions with the potion usually helped to alleviate this.
Indeed, when properly prepared and administered, ayahuasca can
apparently be so efficacious that even the gringa anthropologist
reported "feelings of well-being that dodged [sic] my steps
for several months after" she participated in an ayahuasca
As part of a study of the beliefs and rituals associated with
the Huichol use of peyote (Lophophora williamsii, a cactus
whose principle psychoactive component is mescaline), BARBARA
MYERHOFF (1974) undertook a peyote hunt to the sacred land of
Wirikuta. Listing the reasons why the other participants were
going, she noted that several were there to gain insights into
various aspects of their personal life or the life of a relative
(1974:118-123). As part of the peyote hunt, the participants,
known as hiruritamete ("peyote companions"),
take on new names and eventually attain a state in which they
see no distinction between the participants and their guides,
between men and women, and between humans and gods:
Ritual status and all other forms of social distinctions are set
aside so that for a little while men stand apart from their social
roles and culturally provided "personalities". Frightened
and elated by this freedom, unknown since the moment of birth
which forever fixes one in a social matrix, the hiraritamete
stand nakedly beside one another, undefined, vulnerable, and
starkly human (1974:259).
This state, which MYERHOFF (1974:258) referred to as a "transcendence
of paradox and differentiation", allows the hiruritamete
to resolve the dilemmas of their otherwise marginal existence
and to attain a sense of wholeness.
The use of peyote for religio-mystical purposes spread from northern
Mexico into the United States during the latter portion of the
nineteenth century, and eventually led to the establishment of
such peyote-based religions as the Native American Church (STEWART
1987). The ceremonies which have developed around peyote use here
incorporate both Christian and native elements and provide a ritual
context in which the participants' can journey along the "peyote
road" in search of healing, both for physical and spiritual
This brief discussion of ethnographic and clinical studies shows
that psychedelic sessions evoke somewhat different types of material
when used in traditional and non-traditional frameworks. In Western
settings, where sanctioned use typically occurred in a clinical
environment and non-sanctioned use continues to take place under
a wide variety of circumstances, psychedelics tend to elicit idiosyncratic
material of a psychobiographical nature. In contrast, traditional
use often evokes stereotypical material that reflects basic cultural
themes (DOBKIN DE RIOS 1990:197200; WALLACE 1959; cf. also AL-ISSA
1978). This demarcation is not absolute, for as we have seen,
psychobiographical material often plays a role in traditional
settings, while the idiosyncratic material manifested in non-traditional
settings is typically couched in forms which reflect the cultural
background of the subjects (MOGAR 1972:406; GROF 1976:118-120).
Of central importance in interpreting these divergent effects
is the fact that in traditional societies the ingestion of psychedelics
is typically a sacred act which occurs within a ritual context.
Rituals are stereotyped activities "directed toward the problem
of transformations of state in human beings or nature" (WALLACE
1966:106). Because of their stereotypical structure, they provide
a standardized external framework which allows the participants
to trustingly suspend their own internal framework, i.e., their
personal universe. In contrast to the use of these substances
in non-traditional contexts, such rituals tend to guide the participants
toward culturally-shared goals (DOBKIN DE RIOS 1990:205) because
the pre-session instruction typically provides a "plausibility
structure" (BERGER & LUCKMANN 1967:157-159) which explicitly
delineates the world which the drug-induced experiences will reveal.
Because such experiences are normally construed as lying within
the domain of the sacred, the paths to such knowledge have been
termed "bridges to the gods" (RÄTSCH 1992). Traditionally,
psychedelic rituals of knowledge are undertaken for the good of
the group as well as the individual. The insights gained through
these rituals "serve to make quite distinct both those areas
in which the individual is in harmony with the world around him
and those areas in which harmony is lacking" (RÄTSCH 1992:31)
Both the ethnographic data and the findings of clinical research
into psychedelic drugs indicate that when used properly, the desemanticizing
effects of these substances makes it possible to uncover sources
of psychological stress in the individual and social stress in
the group. As models of the world are detached and the affective
charges linked to these models loosened, the mind becomes in effect
a spectator to the information reaching its awareness. The loosening
of some models may mean that other very highly charged models
which were previously suppressed may become accessible to the
mind, thereby making it possible to consciously abreact them.
Thus, while some persons ingest these substances as part of an
active attempt to discern sources of tension, such stress may
also become manifest during a psychedelic session even when there
was no prior awareness of any particular problem. In extreme cases,
this can lead to a psychotic break which, in the Western context,
may necessitate the administration of antipsychotic drugs or even
hospitalization (SMITH & ROSE 1967-68; COHEN 1985; SMITH &
SEYMOUR 1985). However, any such termination of the negative effects
which can arise in a therapeutic setting may also leave important
material unresolved, and this in turn can lead to a continuation
of these negative effects long after the session has ended (GROF
1976:91-94). For this reason, some experienced psychedelic therapists
argue that it is better to help the person work through this material,
however painful this process may be, and achieve a positive resolution
(STOLAROFF, personal communication). Such effects can, of course,
also occur in traditional settings; here, the long period of training
of the shaman or other ritual leader is intended to prepare them
to deal with such occurrences.
5. Psychedelics as Problem-Solving Devices
The common denominator of psychedelic experiences, whether they
take place in a traditional or a non-traditional setting, is the
temporary detachment of the interpretive modelsthe personal
universewhich a person has acquired and developed during his
lifetime. These models serve many purposes: they define the nature
of the unseen universe and the identities and characters of the
beings who dwell there, they explain events which transpire in
the observable, consensual world, and they delineate such private
and personal domains as body-image and value systems.
When used under the proper circumstances, the abilities of psychedelic
substances to detach cognitive models from the possibility of
sensorimotor verification and to decouple the affective charges
attached to those models has great adaptive significance. Transcending
these models, which in a very real sense takes the individual
back to a time before they were first developed, makes it possible
to replace them with others. Alternately, the loosening of affective
charges also makes it possible for a new affective charge to be
assigned to a previously acquired cognitive model. Both of these
possibilities allow psychedelics to be characterized as problem-solving
As discussed above, the personal universe provides a framework
within which the individual can carry out the business of his
life. Yet because the models which make up a personal universe
are acquired and developed by an individual (who has a unique
genotype and a unique biographical history), they will always
be idiosyncratic (BAKER 1989:31-48); hence, they will always be
insufficient to fully interpret and predict events in the general
universe. Because of this, on occasion these models can and will
Like all hypotheses, mental models about the meaning of sensory
data are capable of being falsified. This occurs when subsequent
sensory data demonstrates that the course of action resulting
from a particular interpretation of an earlier set of sensory
data was not correct, i.e., that the response they elicited to
an event which occurred in the world was not appropriate. For
example, our driver, having maneuvered herself out of the way
of that truck, may then realize that the object she saw was really
a passing train, and thus posed no threat.
The potentially maladaptive fact that the personal universe is
necessarily inadequate is tempered by the fact that it can be
changed. It and its components are mutable. One way in
which change can occur is when data is perceived as novel enough
to merit constructing an entirely new model. Another possibility
is that as experience accrues, certain previously unnoted features
about sets of sensory data may be detected, and subsets of a pre-existing
model may be developed (as when a child learns to distinguish
between ducks and geese, both perhaps formerly lumped under the
rubric "water birds"). A third possibility is that elements
of previous hypotheses may be recombined with elements from other
models of reality and with new elements.
The classic anthropological statement of how this latter process
of innovation occurs was provided by HOMER BARNETT, who noted
that "the essence of change... lies in the restructuring
of the parts so that a new pattern results, a pattern the distinctness
of which cannot be characterized merely in terms of an increase
or decrease in the number of its component elements" (1953:9).
Another anthropologist, ANTHONY F.C. WALLACE, has suggested that
this process involves an "automatic alternate-schemata synthesizer"
(1970:79) which "is responsible for reorganizing what has
been learned, constantly recombining and differentiating elements
in novel arrangements, going beyond information given, solving
contradictions, and sometimes innovating new schemata" (1970:78).
WALLACE considers this process to be an innate function of the
A number of scholars have postulated the existence of such a mechanism
or process (see, e.g., HARRIS 1965:363ff; COHEN 1970:214),
which does not function solely to resolve emotionally-laden psychological
conflicts. THOMAS KUHN (1970:111-135), for example, noted that
a scientific revolution normally entails a gestalt shift among
scientists, who afterwards work "in a different world"
(1970:121). While the revolutions studied by KUHN involved major
changes in the ways in which scientists view the phenomena they
investigate, this same process can also cast light upon less extensive
shifts as well. Many scientists have solved intellectual problems
when they were not actively working on them, e.g., while taking
a walk, falling asleep, etc. For example, AUGUST KEKULÉ first
conceived of the ring structure of the benzene molecule when he
had a vision of a snake who grabbed its tail with its mouth while
he was dozing (PROGOFF 1959:219-220), and Archimedes is said to
have suddenly understood the concept of specific gravity while
These examples demonstrate that when the focus of attention is
shifted away from a problem, the various considerations involved
in that problem can be temporarily detached from their usual relationships
with one another in a manner analogous to that in which aspects
of more deep-seated models are detached from one another during
altered states (in fact, WALLACE [1970:78-79] suggests that the
same mechanism is responsible for both). When this occurs, what
previously appeared to be unrelated elements of a puzzle can fall
It should be stated, however, that the simple ingestion of a psychedelic
substance does not guarantee creativity, for psychedelics only
appear to augment faculties that are already present. For example,
STAFFORD & GOLIGHTLY'S extensive review (1967) of the creative
potentials of LSD led them to suggest that under the proper circumstances
LSD could free-up creative "logjams" and thus might
prove useful in educational and clinical settings. They concluded
that LSD's greatest problem-solving potential "appears to
lie in its ability to summon and titillate the creative imagination"
(1967:255). KRIPPNER'S later (1985) review led him to a similar
conclusion. He too noted that while such compounds may enhance
the creative abilities that are already present in a person, they
will not make an uncreative person into a creative one.
While creative insights into specific problems are common enough
occurrences, from time to time a personal universe may require
more radical solutions for more general stresses. Often, these
are the product of personal conflicts which arise when an individual
s needs are no longer met by traditional social structures (BARNETT
1941; WALLACE 1970:237-238). The anxiety which can result may
lead to changes in the cognitive, conative, and affective realms
(GRINKER 1959). If no other means can be found to fulfill the
individual's needs and restore a sense of belonging, that person
can become susceptible to what WALLACE (1956a:635) has termed
"an autotherapeutic process that reduces stress". As
WALLACE (1956a:636) points out, this stress is not related to
the actual contents of the personal universe, but to the degree
of disorder among these contents.
An analogy will aid us to envision the processes involved. Anthropology
has long recognized the distinction between a social "status"
and a social "role". A status is a position held by
a person as a member of a group, e.g., shaman, warrior, teacher,
father, etc. Roles are the sets of behaviors and values expected
of a person in a particular status. Because people typically occupy
more than one status, the roles and valuesexpressed in the
personal universe as cognitive models and affective chargesassociated
with one status may directly contradict the roles and values associated
with a different status (WALLACE 1970:230-232). These divergent
"cognitive/affective complexes" can rub against one
another like mental tectonic plates. Usually, the stresses which
result will produce nothing greater that an occasional tremor;
from time to time, however, these plates may become locked together,
and the stress which can then accumulate may become so great that
only a major and potentially disruptive "quake" is able
to restore any kind of internal equilibrium (cf. WALLACE 1956c).
Psychedelic drugs, of course, are not the only means by which
such mental tectonic plates can be made to move. Handsome Lake,
the Seneca Indian who provided the paradigm for WALLACE'S models
of "mazeway resynthesis" (1956a) and the sociocultural
outcome known as the "revitalization movement" (1956b),
received his unifying vision after falling into an unconscious
state induced by guilt, despair, and chronic alcoholism. The "cognitive
and affective restructuring" (WALLACE 1966:240) which took
place in this state substantially reduced the internal stress
experienced by HANDSOME LAKE, stress whose source was the increasing
incongruity between his personal universe and the changing world
around him. In this case, understanding the affective charges
linked to many of HANDSOME LAKE'S pre-and post-resynthesis models
provides a key to understanding the shift between his old and
his new ways of interpreting the world (BAKER in press).
Similarly, BACHE (1985) has suggested that TERESA OF AVILA's mystical
experiences were the expression of a need to work through psychodynamics
similar to the "systems of condensed experiences" proposed
by GROF (1976). Pointing towards a more fundamental triggering
level, HELMINIAK (1984) has argued that innate neurological conditions
(such as temporal lobe epilepsy) can also generate experiences
so profound that they may lead a person to radically change his
way of life.
As FISCHER (1976) pointed out, meditative states represent a further
pathway towards transcending the personal universe and thereby
helping resolve internal tension. In meditative states such as
that induced by the practice of "transcendental meditation",
the low sensory/motor ratio leads to a condition in which there
is a minimum of information being made available to the mind.
In such states, the reduction of internal stress normally occurs
without the mind becoming aware of the source. In contrast to
psychedelic substances, the restructuring of the personal universe
which results from transcendental meditation usually occurs at
a much more gradual pace and with less emotional involvement (BAKER
Psychedelic substances thus represent but one pathway for manifesting
and hence removing incongruities between the personal universe
and the general universe. What distinguishes the psychedelics
from other techniques for voluntarily inducing alterations in
consciousness is the rapidity with which they act and the depth
and extensiveness of the material they can help make manifest.
Indeed, psychedelic substances are predisposed for catalyzing
major shifts in a person's personal universe. These "desemanticizing
drugs... interfere with the ability to assign meaning to previously
familiar data (WALLACE 1966:240), and thus quickly produce a state
in which the individual stands apart from the models which normally
provide a sense of orientation in what would otherwise be an overwhelming
In many societiesincluding our ownthe idea that knowledge
gained along the psychedelic pathway can be as valuable as knowledge
gained through other procedures has been a subject of contention
(see, e.g., DAISETZ 1971 and the other papers in that volume;
a more affirmative view is offered in SMITH 1964). Even such an
insightful scholar of religion as MIRCEA ELIADE downgraded the
use of psychoactive compounds. ELIADE (1964:33-66) gave a number
of examples of death and rebirth experiences which a novice must
undergo on the way to becoming a shaman. Typically, the shaman
undergoes some form of suffering before attaining the experience
which imparts the knowledge of his new profession. ELIADE, however,
emphasized the psychopathological catalysts of the shaman's calling
(1964:23-32), while claiming that
"in shamanism itself, narcotics already represent a decadence
and that, in default of true ecstatic methods, recourse is taken
to narcotics to induce trance (1964:417)."
ELIADE's interpretation has recently drawn sharp criticism from
RIPINSKY-NAXON (1993:132), who explicitly points to the central
role which hallucinogenic substances play in many contemporary
shamanic belief systems around the world. At the same time, RIPINSKY-NAXON
cautions against moving to the other extreme and seeing psychedelics
as the only method of consciousness alteration used by shamans:
"one must heed the warning that not all shamanistic beliefs,
at least among those observed today, are based onor have been
connected withthe use of hallucinogenic substances" (1993:206).
Here again is an example of the manner in which preconceived
attitudes about altered states of consciousness tend to obfuscate
the issues. The emotional aspects of the debate concerning drugs
in general and psychedelics in particular create more confusion
that insight; certainly, it is as erroneous to overestimate the
role and importance of these substances as it is to downplay them.
6. Discussion and Conclusions
The evolution of the mind, and the dynamic interaction between
it and the brain, has made it possible for Homo sapiens to
develop extremely complex and abstract models of the world. In
normal states of consciousness, these models enable the individual
to quickly assess sensory data and to make decisions on the basis
of these assessments. One corollary of the fundamental role which
such models play in everyday life is that once they have been
developed, they will not normally be superseded even when it is
obvious that they are no longer appropriate (WALLACE 1970:203-204).
Altered states of consciousness represent one possibility for
modifying previously acquired models. When the mechanisms which
maintain the personal universe are suspended, the models which
make it up are cut off from the possibility of verification,
and this in turn makes them more tractable to a process which
can result in a reduction of the tension between the components
of the personal universe and between the personal universe and
the general universe.
Although the present discussion has focused on psychedelic substances,
these drugs represent but one pathway for altering consciousness.
In certain meditative states, e.g., the brain receives little
sensory and/or motor data, and there is thus little for the mind
to become aware of. Moreover, since meditators are often instructed
to disregard any thoughts, sensations, images, feelings, etc.
which may arise during meditation and to focus instead on the
practice itself, such methods of altering consciousness are not
as likely to make manifest the internal dynamics of the personal
In contrast, the states induced by psychedelic compounds are characterized
by a condition in which the mind becomes a more or less impartial
observer of the contents of the personal universe. From this position,
incongruities within the personal universe and between the personal
universe and general universe can be readily discerned, and this
in turn makes it possible to develop alternate models to replace
them. When this occurs during a psychedelic session which takes
place in a non-traditional setting, these models will tend to
be idiosyncratic and, if they are useful, their transmission may
help to introduce new elements to a culture. In contrast, when
psychedelic sessions are conducted within a traditional ritual
setting (e.g., for the purpose of initiation), then the models
which may be adopted by an individual will typically include those
which that culture has proffered prior to the session as part
of its "plausibility structure" (BERGER & LUCKMANN
1967) for explaining what occurs in such states.
Thus, in a very real sense, consciousness alteration can be a
problem-solving device. When they are detached from their habituated
background, models of the world become more open to an apparently
innate process through which their component parts may be reshuffled
and combined into new models of reality. Of course, the utility
of those models must then be evaluated after the return to "normal"
Psychedelic substances represent a potent class of agents which
rapidly and radically detach the models which make up the personal
universe. In doing so, they can also loosen the affective charges
attached to such models. Used incorrectly, they can result in
even greater dis-stress within an individual's personal universe.
To maximize the constructive potential of psychedelics and minimize
their potential for harm, we should learn from those specialists
who have been using these drugs for countless years: the shamans,
healers, and religious practitioners of traditional societies.
The ritual framework within which such use takes place provides
a strongly supportive "setting", while the culturally
proffered explanations for both the drug effects and the meaning
of the material which they evoke present the user with a "set"
that does much to obviate possible negative effects. Indeed, some
Western therapists have adapted traditional ritual forms for their
work (see, e.g., YENSEN 1985:275), and there is evidence that
many "street users" of psychedelic drugs have developed
their own versions of rituals, often based upon such traditional
use (DOBKIN DE RIOS & SMITH 1976, 1977; SMITH & SEYMOUR
1985:303; DEKORNE 1994). As Westerners grow wiser about the effects
of these substances and the variables which condition a psychedelic
session (see STOLAROFF 1993), it may become possible to overcome
our prejudices concerning such substances and make more effective
use of their problem-solving potential.
It should be noted, however, that the ability of the individual
to transcend the universe which he or she has created has implications
which go far beyond the mere possibility of solving problems by
resolving incongruities. The temporary suspension of the models
which a person uses to interpret the world (and which in turn
separate the individual from the world) results in a state in
which the individual as a construct is also transcended.
In this state in which there is no "I", experience becomes
self-referential. Experienced as a state of wholeness, this state
lies at the core of many religio-mystical traditions. Yet it can
only be interpreted, described, and communicated after the fact
by using models either proffered by the culture or developed by
Writing in the years immediately preceding the explosion of interest
in psychedelic substances, ABRAHAM MASLOW (1948) noted how the
process of interpreting fresh sensory data by drawing upon previously
learned categories (a process he termed "rubricizing")
cast the world in a static and repetitive light. He suggested
that transcending this condition enabled a person to once again
experience the world as a whole: "It may even be that the
so-called 'mystic experience' is the perfect and extreme expression
of this sort of full appreciation of all the characteristics
of the particular phenomenon" (1948:37; emphasis MASLOW'S).
As MASLOW implied, this experience is among the most profound
available to a human being. As such, it may allow a person to
define a new path for himself. In addition to its implications
for the individual, its meaning for the group can be profound
as well. Group living depends upon shared values and meanings;
transcending these can call them into question. As HUMBERTO MATURANA
(1980:xxviii) has noted:
A human being operating as an observer... can always define a
metadomain from the perspective of which he may see his participation
in the various social systems that he integrates, and find it
contradictory. Conduct as observer by a human being implies that
he stands operationally as if outside the various social systems
that he otherwise integrates, and that he may undergo in this
manner interactions that do not confirm them. An observer always
is potentially antisocial.
Psychedelics, then, are a double-edged sword. Used incorrectly,
they can undermine the sources of individual stability. Used correctly,
they can enable a person to stand back and reevaluate his position
in and relationship with the world. Any attempts to use these
compounds in a constructive manner must bear in mind that the
psychedelic pathway is a means to an end, not an end in itself.
1. This paper benefited from comments on
earlier drafts by CHRISTIAN RÄTSCH, MYRON STOLAROFF, and MICHAEL
2. The concept of mind, of course, is an extremely
"fuzzy" one (ZADEH 1965), and any discussion of whether
other animals than humans have minds is hence fraught with terminological
as well as methodological pitfalls. This notwithstanding, l have
argued elsewhere that evolutionary considerations suggest that
denying mind to animals is problematic as well (BAKER 1989:81
ff.). On the other hand, there has also been less than universal
acceptance of the idea that humans have minds. The Behaviorists,
for example, reacted to the excesses of the Introspectionist psychologists
by summarily banning concepts such as mind and consciousness from
scientific consideration (cf. WATSON 1928), while many recent
philosophers, in an effort to avoid ontological complications,
have simply equated mind (and consciousness) with brain processes
(e.g., PLACE 1956:45; SMART 1959:143; ARMSTRONG 1968:94). Since,
however, in the present discussion I am viewing mind solely from
an operational perspective, it is not necessary to address these
philosophical issues. (back)
3. The idea of"emergence" (MORGAN
1923) posits that at certain times during the evolution of the
universe, the interrelationships between phenomena become so complex
that qualitatively new phenomena emerge whose properties could
not have been predicted from any knowledge of the properties of
the components of those systems. For example, some large molecules
are able to replicate themselves, a property which could not be
predicted from a knowledge of their parts (PLATT 1961). Similarly,
living systems exhibit properties which go beyond those of their
non-living components (POLANYI 1968); they thus represent a qualitative
step "up" from the physicochemical processes that support
4. A discussion of the alternatives to Interactionism
would take us far afield of the topic at hand and is not necessary
in the present context. It should, however, be explicitly stated
that I am making no ontological assertions with respect to the
dualist (or monist) point of view, and that the Interactionist
model used here is intended solely as a heuristic device to clarify
certain aspects of the relationship between the brain and the
mind that are germane to this discussion. (back)
5. Everyday experience shows that if the mind
does in fact become involved in these activities (as, e.g., when
a person is nervous before a musical performance), then the performance
of the task will oftentimes not be as good as it was during practice.
Since these behaviors have become habitual, they tend to be controlled
by lower-level structures. High-level "interference"
(such as thinking "What should I do now?") appears to
affect the time required to process these tasks, thereby interfering
with the previously learned, finely-tuned sensorimotor loops.
This suggests that at least one reason why "pushing the envelope"
while, e.g., driving, skiing, skydiving, or doing any other task
which requires a person to be totally absorbed in the situation
at hand may be exhilarating is because the trained responses run
automatically, so that the mind "steps back" and becomes,
in effect, an observer. (back)
6. In this definition, I have purposely used
the phrase "interacting with a brain" in order to accommodate
the possibility that under very specific circumstances, a mind
might be able to interact with a brain different than the one
it is normally "involved" (MORGAN 1923) with. THOULESS
& WIESNER (1947), for example, have suggested that the so-called
psi processes of extra-sensory perception and psycho-kinesis may
be exosomatic examples of the same interaction that normally occurs
endosomatically between the mind and brain of one individual.
Regardless of the correctness of this view, the implications of
such phenomena are profound. As the philosopher DAVID ARMSTRONG
(1968:364) has noted: "the claims of psychical research are the
small black cloud on the horizon of a Materialist theory of mind".
7. The phenomenon of "lucid dreaming"
(LEBERGE & RHEINGOLD 1990), which occurs when a person realizes
that the experiences he is having are occurring within a dream,
may represent a threshold state of consciousness in which the
mind is starting to become aware of information reaching the liaison
8. Use of these substances, of course, often
occurs in conjunction with one or more of LUDWIG'S remaining four
categories, a fact which certainly increases the potential for
inducing non-ordinary states of consciousness. An extreme example
of this is the profound sensory overload provided at "rave"
parties, where loud, highly repetitive music is played in a dance
environment which typically includes strobe and variously colored
lights, fog machines, and other sources of sensory stimulation.
Raves typically begin late at night and last until morning, and
the people who attend may use a variety of substances to modify
their consciousness and give them the endurance to dance through
the night. For example, one survey of regular attenders on their
patterns of drug use at raves revealed that at some time approximately
75% had taken LSD, about the same number had used MDMA, and a
slightly lower number (= 60%) had used marijuana. Other drugs
used were alcohol (= 20%) and cocaine (= 10 to 15%). Little use
of heroin and amphetamines was reported (Holland 1993). One person
I spoke with who attended raves in California reported that some
individuals ingest a combination of LSD and MDMA, a procedure
known in this subculture as "candy flipping". (back)
9. Although LEWIN included plants containing
the tropane alkaloids atropine and scopolamine (particularly Hyosoyamus
and Datura species) in the category of "Phantastica",
he acknowledged that the effects of these plants are distinct
from those of the other members of this category (LEWIN 1981 :174-176).
These same differences led LEUNER (1981:33-34) to distinguish
between two categories of hallucinogens. LEUNER'S Category I includes
such substances as LSD, mescaline, psilocybin, psilocin, tryptamine
derivatives, and to a degree Cannabis. Category II includes atropine,
hyoscyamine, and other anticholinergic substances. (back)
10. LSD is the most potent of the major psychedelic
drugs. Cross tolerance has been demonstrated between LSD, psilocybin
(ISBELL, WOLBACH, WINKLER & MINER 1961), and mescaline (BALESTRIERI
& FONTANARI 1959; WOLBACH, ISBELL & MINER 1962), suggesting
that these agents affect similar biological pathways. Thus, in
many ways, LSD represents a paradigm for understanding hallucinogenic
substances in general. (back)
11. Ayahuasca is a decoction prepared from various Banisteriopsis
species (the principle psychoactive alkaloids of which are harmine
and harmaline), usually in conjunction with other psychoactive
plants. Although a great number of admixture plants have been
reported (see OTT 1993:210-223 for a discussion), the most important
appear to be those containing the tryptamine N,N-dimethyltryptamine.
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