On Being Stoned
Charles T. Tart, Ph. D.
Chapter 10. Ostensible Paranormal Phenomena (ESP)
PHENOMENA PURPORTING to be paranormal in naturei.e., involving
the transmission of information (extrasensory perception, ESP)
or power (psychokinesis, PK) across space or time when known physical
carriers would not be operativewere often reported in pilot
interviews with marijuana users, so a number of questions were
devoted to this in the main study. A questionnaire study can only
deal with ostensible paranormal phenomena, i.e., with phenomena
that the experiencers themselves judge to be paranormal. Whether
such phenomena would appear to be genuinely paranormal in terms
of laboratory standards is unknown; judging by previous studies
of self-reported ESP instances (Anonymous, 1958; Green, 1960,
1966; Gurney, Myers, & Podmore, 1886; Membership Committee,
American Society for Psychical Research, 1967; Prasad and Stevenson,
1968; Sidgwick et al., 1894), some of the ostensible ESP would
be discounted by a scientific investigator and some would turn
out to be well evidenced and worthy of investigation. Thus the
figures given below for paranormal phenomena are probably too
high in terms of actual paranormal phenomena,
 but do reflect
the incidence of ostensible paranormal phenomena in our 150 marijuana
users. It is, of course, the experiencer's own judgment of the
paranormality of an experience that may radically alter his belief
system, not the judgment of a hypothetically expert scientist.
Thus ostensible paranormal phenomena are an important aspect of
First, it should be noted that most of the users (76 percent)
believe in the reality of ESP; their responses to the question,
"I believe in the existence of extrasensory perception
(ESP), i.e., that people can sometimes acquire knowledge
about things happening at a distance in space or time, or about
other people's thoughts, when there is no possibility of this
knowledge having been acquired through the known senses (sight,
hearing, etc.)" are tabulated in Table 10-1.
BELIEF IN ESP
|LEVEL OF BELIEF||PERCENTAGE|
|Haven't made up my mind||15%|
A specific question dealing with marijuana experiences was "I
feel so aware of what people are thinking that it must be telepathy,
mind reading, rather than just being more sensitive to the subtle
cues in the behavior." This was a fairly frequent occurrence
(30%, 22%, 31%, 12%, 4%), usually occurring at moderately high
levels of intoxication (6%, 11%, 21%, 19%, 5%). Heavy Total users
of marijuana report it more frequently than Moderate Total users
(p <.05) or Light Total users (p <.05),
with the Light and Moderate Total users peaking sharply at Rarely/Sometimes
and not differing significantly from each other. Users of Psychedelics
need to be somewhat less intoxicated to feel they experience telepathy
A related phenomenon, dealt with fully in Chapter 12, is "I
empathize tremendously with others; If eel what they feel; I have
a tremendous intuitive understanding of what they're feeling,"
a very common phenomenon, which occurs at Moderate levels.
The experience of precognition is a rare phenomenon: "I
can foretell the future by some kind of precognition, more than
just predicting logically from present events" (64%,
19%, 11%, 1%, 1%); and while most (71%) of the users did not rate
the minimal intoxication level for this, those who did gave it
a quite high rating (3%, 3%, 7%, 11%, 3%). Heavy Total users report
precognition more frequently than Moderate Total users (p
<.01) or Light Total users (p <.05). Similarly,
Daily users report precognition more frequently than Weekly users
(p <.05) or Occasional users (p <.01), with
a suggestion (p <.10) that Weekly users also experience
it more often than Occasional users.
Magic, Psychokinesis (PK)
The converse of extrasensory perception, a sense of paranormally
affecting the world, was investigated with "I can perform
magical operations that will affect objects or people while stoned,"
and appears to be a very rare effect (83%, 6%, 6%, 1%, 0%). The
few users rating level of intoxication indicated this as a high-level
effect (1%, 1%, 3%, 5%, 3%). Daily users reported it occurring
more frequently than Weekly users (p <.05) or Occasional
users (p <.01). The users were also asked to describe
examples of this; of the twelve who wrote descriptive comments,
five users gave comments which were not readily understandable,
suggesting a communications gap. One user expressed clearly a
semantic problem inherent in the question: "I believe that
magic is just 'doing' on a higher level of awareness. It is 'magic'
to the spectator who does not expect or understand it. I have
to be very stoned in order to be able to concentrate and flow
at the same time to a sufficient degree to perform magic. 'Magic'
tricks can be very funny and very beautiful, also astonishing.
Maybe dangerous, too."
Two other users indicated that their experiences depended on how
you defined magic; one described chanting mantras (Govinda,
1960) with others as a magical way of affecting them; another,
"using subliminal suggestion in a soft voice across the room."
Of the phenomena reported that resemble those reported in the
parapsychological literature: (1) two were of increased telepathic
rapport ("playing guitar with a friend so well it seems magic,"
and "I can be 100 percent accurate about stating peoples'
signs (sun), I can predict peoples' movements, social groupings");
(2) two involved being able to paranormally affect another user's
level of intoxication ("I can get other people higher by
more than ordinary communicationcan feel as if I exude
a force that draws their consciousness to me and higher, more
than gaze and conversation alone," and "I can bring
people 'up' if I want topeople who are close to me emotionally");
and (3) one involved a sensing of the prana force described
in Chapter 11 ("Sometimes while stoned we play a game in
which one person will hold his hand near another person's body.
This will cause the person to feel a tingling, or other feeling
in this area. Sometimes the affected person may have his eyes
|Figure 10-1. OSTENSIBLE PARANORMAL PHENOMENA|
Note.For guide to interpreting the "How Stoned" graph,
see note on Figure 6-1.
The frequencies of occurrence of these three paranormal phenomena
are shown in Figure 10-1. Telepathy is reported more frequently
than precognition (p <.0005) or magical operations
(p <<.0005), and in turn, precognition is more frequent
than magical operations (p <.001). There is a parallel
to laboratory work with the paranormal, where contemporary time
ESP (telepathy, clairvoyance) studies are most often significant,
precognition studies are not significant as often, and psychokinesis
(usually "willing" dice faces to come up in a certain
pattern) is a rare bird (Rao, 1966). The levels of intoxication
for the three phenomena do not differ significantly, although
the test is not very adequate due to the small number of users
rating the precognition and magical operation items.
A phenomenon rare in the pilot data, but of particular interest
to me because of some intriguing laboratory findings (Tart, 1967,
1968), is the so-called "out-of-the-body" experience
(OOBE) "Have you ever had the experience of being 'located'
outside your physical body, i.e., of you being at a different
location in space than the one you knew your body was at? Dreams
aren't included here, or situations where you just lose consciousness
of your body. This is where you consciously feel located at a
different place and know at the time that you are conscious but
at a different location. Has this happened to you?" The
last sentence ended in several modifiers, "at all?"
"while stoned?" "happened before started smoking
grass," and "happened after started smoking grass."
The users were also asked to describe any such experiences. Fifty-three
percent of the users indicated they had never had such an experience,
23 percent (34 users) that they had had it once, and 21 percent
(32 users) that they had had multiple experiences; 3 percent did
Because OOBEs are not familiar to the general scientific reader,
half a dozen examples will be given from the comments of 57 users
who added some explanatory note to their positive response. This
will illustrate the range of phenomena connected with OOBEs, a
range similar to that reported generally for spontaneous occurrences
of this phenomenon (Crookall, 1961, 1964a, 1964b; Green, 1968).
A rather classical example was reported by a 29-year-old electronics
It occurred one noon hour where I work. I was meditating when
I perceived that I was looking down on myself, then looking at
the roof of the buildings. The ground passed under as if I was
flying, it became a blur then blue and then land again. I then
found myself in a Lapp hut with an old shaman who was an old woman.
She was brewing a tea of bird twigs and mumbling. The return was
instantaneous. Someone at work shook my shoulder and I was back.
At the time I did not know she was a Lapp. This came out after
I described the kit and costume to my wife who is Scandinavian.
We later researched it in several picture books on the Lapp culture.
OOBEs often involve seeing one's own physical body from an outside
point of view. Of the 57 who added comments 19 percent specifically
mentioned this. An example, also involving the rarer activity
of the physical body continuing to operate in a complex manner,
was reported by a 23-year-old user:
I was riding my motorcycle home from school (with girl passenger).
While I was operating all the controls (of the motorcycle), I
was watching my motorcycle with the girl and me from a distance
of about six to eight feet above our physical existence. I had
no noticeable physical sensations such as feeling while operating
the motorcycle, though I seemed to be functioning fairly well.
Physical sound didn't register either. I thought I was hearing
wonderful, powerful, colorful, emotional, free music. The whole
experience was remarkably enjoyable.
Accidents are often associated with OOBEs, presumably in a causative
manner. A 36-year-old assistant manager reports:
Knocked unconscious in fallsaw crowd collect around own body
from above, saw self lying on pavement. Perception and cognition
very sharp for three days afterward.
While a defining characteristic of an OOBE is that one perceives
the self as being at a different location from the physical body
while knowing simultaneously that one is not dreaming, occasionally
perceptual and cognitive changes occur in addition during the
OOBE that indicate another state of consciousness is operative.
The next three examples further illustrate such phenomena.
A 26-year-old teacher reports:
I sometimes view my body and the sequence of functions it follows
in a particular environment from some operator's or observer's
vantage above and behind my body. "The whole scene"
is then more obvious to me in that I have a sense of 360°
perception rather than 180-200°. I am now conscious of what
is actually behind me.
A 22-year-old clerk reports:
Once on an acid trip in an apartment in San Francisco, a friend
and I changed places. I was inside his head looking at my body
and my face and hearing my voice when he talked. He was
looking from my body into his face, and when I spoke it was with
As a final example of OOBE phenomena, a 44-year-old psychiatrist
reports a fairly frequent sort of OOBE that involves "visiting"
a sort of world that is clearly unlike the known physical world:
I left my own body, went into "another dimension" (?),
where I found other people, all young (I was 42) playing games
of "switch the body"an experience like taking off
your clothes and playing in the nudevery freeingseemed somewhere
in outer (or another) space.
Several background factors, which affect the reporting of OOBEs,
are noted in Table 10-2, with significance levels for the obtained
BACKGROUND FACTORS AFFECTING THE REPORTING
OF OUT OF-THE-BODY EXPERIENCES
| ||NUMBER OF USERS ANSWERING|
|BACKGROUND VARIABLE||No OOBEs||One OOBE||Multiple OOBEs|
| Therapy & Growth||4||3||9|
Fewer males tend to report OOBEs, but of those who do, multiple
experiences are more common than with females. The Therapy and
Growth group tends to report both more OOBEs and more multiple
OOBEs overall. Similarly, there is a suggestion that Users of
Psychedelics tend to report more OOBEs and more multiple OOBEs
Table 10-3 presents responses to the "while stoned?"
part of the question.
OUT-OF-THE-BODY EXPERIENCES WHILE STONED
|OOBEs WHILE INTOXICATED||NUMBER OF USERS|
|Never while intoxicated||27|
|Multiple experiences, all with marijuana intoxication||5|
|Multiple experiences, some with marijuana, others without||14|
|Once, with LSD||6|
|Multiple experiences, with LSD||6|
An infrequent phenomenon possibly related to OOBEs is "I
have lost all consciousness of my body and the external world
and just found myself floating in limitless space (not necessarily
physical space)." This is dealt with fully in Chapter
Although OOBEs are well-known in parapsychological literature
as occurring "spontaneously" (in the sense of cause
unknown) or being caused by serious accident or illness (Crookall,
1961, 1964a, 1964b; Eastman, 1962; Green, 1966; Muldoon and Carrington,
1956), the majority (73 percent) in this sample were in conjunction
with marijuana intoxication or LSD use. More than twice as many
users (38) indicated that their OOBEs began after they
had started using marijuana as indicated they started before
(14), a highly significant (p <.001) difference if
one assumes the proportion should be equal before/after on the
null hypothesis that marijuana use does not foster this experience.
Twice as many Meditators report that their OOBEs occurred before
marijuana use as after, however, with the proportion equal for
the Therapy and Growth groups and more than three to one in the
opposite direction for the Ordinary Users (p <.01,
overall). The younger users also report that their OOBEs occur
after starting marijuana use much more frequently than before,
significantly different from the older group (p <.05),
but this may only reflect the fact that the younger users have
not had as much time for the experience to happen to them.
OOBEs are often interpreted as having profound religious significance
by the users. An example is given in Chapter 19, Spiritual Experiences,
although the user did not report this as an OOBE for the present
question. Some other ostensibly paranormal phenomena, generally
considered so exotic and far out that even modern parapsychologists
have not dealt with them to any appreciable extent, are the sensing
of energy in the body (prana, ki) and the sensing of chakra
centers, dealt with in Chapter 11; the perception of auras around
people, dealt with in Chapter 6; and the rare phenomenon of feeling
possessed, dealt with in Chapter 17.
LEVELS OF INTOXICATION FOR OSTENSIBLE PARANORMAL PHENOMENA
All ostensibly paranormal phenomena and related phenomena have
been grouped by level of intoxication in Figure 10-2. The overall
grouping is highly significant (p <<<.0005).
Between the Fair and Strong levels, feelings of intuitive understanding
of people commonly occur, and this may progress to a feeling of
telepathic contact as the user moves up toward the Very Strong
level. At high levels, feelings of energy in the body and the
spine may occur, along with (rarely) precognition and the ability
to magically affect others. Up to this point we have been dealing
largely with the ostensible paranormal extension of sensing and
manipulating abilities in the known world. At the highest levels,
we deal with infrequent and rare phenomena no longer relating
to the physical world.
INTOXICATION LEVELS, OSTENSIBLE PARANORMAL PHENOMENA
|Just ||Fairly ||Strongly ||Very|
|Type size code:|
|FLOAT IN LIMITLESS SPACE|
|Feel possessed by a hostile force|
|Sense chakra centers|
|Perform magical operations|
|Feel possessed by a good force|
|Energy in spine|
|AURAS AROUND PEOPLE|
|FEEL ENERGY, POWER IN BODY|
|INTUITIVE, EMPATHIC UNDERSTANDING OF PEOPLE|
|Just ||Fairly ||Strongly ||Very|
The various background factors affect ostensible paranormal phenomena
in a relatively linear fashion. They are summarized in Table 10-4.
In general, more drug experience is associated with more frequent
experience of practically all the paranormal phenomena covered
in the present study. Meditators have more frequent experience
with energetic phenomena, and the Therapy and Growth group seems
to have more frequent experiences with OOBEs and some energetic
EFFECTS OF BACKGROUND FACTORS ON
OSTENSIBLE PARANORMAL PHENOMENA
|More Drug Experience||More frequent:|
Auras around people
Energy in spine
Sense chakra centers
Less intoxicated for:
Energy in body
Energy in spine
Sense chakra centers
OOBEs before using marijuana
|Therapy & Growth||More frequent:|
Energy in body
Possessed by good force
|Older|| ||Less frequent:|
OOBEs after starting to use marijuana
Less intoxicated for:
Float in limitless space
After allowing that general credulousness and specific drug-induced
credulousness have probably raised the apparent incidence of paranormal
experiences in this group of marijuana users, it is still clear
that the proportion of users reporting such phenomena is much
higher than in surveys of general populations, which have found
a low incidence of 2 percent (Holland) and a high incidence of
22 percent (Germany) (Anonymous, 1958; Green, 1966; Membership
Committee, American Society for Psychical Research, 1967; Prasad
and Stevenson, 1968). Indeed, the incidence of personal experience
of ostensibly paranormal phenomena is as high in the present sample
as that reported for members of a society specifically interested
in promoting the scientific investigation of the paranormal, the
American Society for Psychical Research (Membership Committee,
Researchers interested in finding subjects especially prone to
paranormal experience would do well to consider marijuana users.
Either marijuana use affects judgment such that a large number
of ordinary experiences are judged to be paranormal, or there
is a very high incidence of paranormal phenomena associated with
marijuana use, or both.
1. Although paranormal phenomena are not accepted as real by a
large number of scientists, this is primarily a matter of belief
system clash ("Since it can't occur, why should I waste my
time looking at the evidence?"), or what Kuhn (1962) has
called paradigm clash. The reader interested in a survey of the
findings of modern parapsychology may consult the following references:
Broad (1962), Heywood (1959), Johnson (1953), Murphy (1962), Rao
(1966), and West (1954). While laboratory research has established
the reality of some paranormal phenomena beyond doubt, the overenthusiastic
and uncritical acceptance of these phenomena by the young is muddying
2. Because all users did not answer all parts of this question
on OOBEs, the totals in various tables are slightly discrepant.