Wednesday, February 01, 2012

billions and billions and 420

I've been researching various "recreational" drugs (via the Internet, not physically) for my developing play PALMYRA, NJ and found this amusing article by Carl Sagan about his own drug use.

I wasn't at all surprised he had spent some time as a psychonaut - I remember a certain section of Carl Sagan's "Dragons of Eden":
In dreams we are sometimes aware that a small portion of us is placidly watching; often off in a corner of the dream, there is a kind of observer. It is this "watcher" part of our minds that occasionally - sometimes in the midst of a nightmare - will say to us "this is only a dream." It is the "watcher" who appreciates the dramatic unity of a finely structured dream plot. Most of the time, however, the "watcher" is entirely silent. In psychedelic drug experiences - for example, with marinjuana or LSD - the presence of such a "watcher" is commonly reported. LSD experiences may be terrifying in the extreme, and several people have told me that the difference between sanity and insanity in the LSD experience rests entirely on the continued presence of the "watcher," a small, silent portion of the waking consciousness.

In one marijuana experience, my informant became aware of the presence and, in a strange way, the in-appropriateness of this silent "watcher," who responds with interest and occasional critical comment to the kaleidoscopic dream imagery of the marijuana experience but is not part of it. "Who are you?" my informant silently asked it. "Who wants to know?" it replied, making the experience very like a Sufi or Zen parable. But my informant's question is a deep one. I would suggest the observer is a small part of the critical faculties of the left hemisphere, functioning much more in psychedelic thank in dream experiences, but present to a degree in both. However, the ancient query, "Who is it who asks the question?" is still unanswered; perhaps it is another component of the left cerebral hemisphere.
And I remember thinking as I read this: "yeah, I bet his 'informant' was ole Carl himself."

But it wasn't as if Sagan was hiding his experiences - "Dragons of Eden" was published in 1986 but he had already written this essay in 1969 for something called in Marihuana Reconsidered. It says, in part:

I had become friendly with a group of people who occasionally smoked cannabis, irregularly, but with evident pleasure. Initially I was unwilling to partake, but the apparent euphoria that cannabis produced and the fact that there was no physiological addiction to the plant eventually persuaded me to try. My initial experiences were entirely disappointing; there was no effect at all, and I began to entertain a variety of hypotheses about cannabis being a placebo which worked by expectation and hyperventilation rather than by chemistry. After about five or six unsuccessful attempts, however, it happened. I was lying on my back in a friend’s living room idly examining the pattern of shadows on the ceiling cast by a potted plant (not cannabis!). I suddenly realized that I was examining an intricately detailed miniature Volkswagen, distinctly outlined by the shadows. I was very skeptical at this perception, and tried to find inconsistencies between Volkswagens and what I viewed on the ceiling. But it was all there, down to hubcaps, license plate, chrome, and even the small handle used for opening the trunk. When I closed my eyes, I was stunned to find that there was a movie going on the inside of my eyelids. Flash . . . a simple country scene with red farmhouse, a blue sky, white clouds, yellow path meandering over green hills to the horizon. . . Flash . . . same scene, orange house, brown sky, red clouds, yellow path, violet fields . . . Flash . . . Flash . . . Flash. The flashes came about once a heartbeat. Each flash brought the same simple scene into view, but each time with a different set of colors . . . exquisitely deep hues, and astonishingly harmonious in their juxtaposition. 

Since then I have smoked occasionally and enjoyed it thoroughly. It amplifies torpid sensibilities and produces what to me are even more interesting effects, as I will explain shortly. I can remember another early visual experience with cannabis, in which I viewed a candle flame and discovered in the heart of the flame, standing with magnificent indifference, the black-hatted and -cloaked Spanish gentleman who appears on the label of the Sandeman sherry bottle. Looking at fires when high, by the way, especially through one of those prism kaleidoscopes which image their surroundings, is an extraordinarily moving and beautiful experience.

 Also of interest on the topic is a web site Erowid: Documenting the Complex Relationship Between Humans and Psychoactives, which includes the handy The Psychedelic Experience FAQ, written in the 1990s by some Finnish guys who go by the names of "Gnosis and Nip." I found this of interest:
The ideal tripping location is at once:
  • secluded, so that you don't run into friends/relatives/neighbors during the trip
  • in the countryside, so you can get away from the bustle and noises of the big city and enjoy nature
  • familiar, so that you feel safe and comfortable there
  • comfortable, ie. enough mattresses and beds for everybody
Unfortunately, finding a place that fulfills all these conditions is not possible for most of us, so you'll have to settle for less. If you live by yourself, great, just make sure that you remove all links to the outside world for the trip (disconnect phone and doorbell, tell friends and relatives not to visit). If you still live at home with your parents, pick a time when you're absolutely, completely and totally sure they will not come bursting in halfway through your trip. Consider renting a cabin in the woods for a weekend or maybe just a motel room, youth hostels and the like are quite cheap especially if you split the cost with a larger group. Here in Finland, there are thousands of cheap summer cottages, almost always located right next to a lake and some forest, that fulfill the criteria of an ideal tripping location perfectly.
I noted recently in a post on Steig Larrson's Millenium trilogy that the Swedes are big on small cabins in the woods. Apparently this is a pan-Scandinavian phenomenon.

Here is another especially interesting section:

3f. Triptoys
Triptoys should only be pulled out after the peak is clearly over and your group has entered the phase where you have some energy again instead of just floating in hyperspace. Of course, some people just continue with music or more spiritual pursuits. In alphabetical order:

  • Books are an acquired taste. Most people find reading difficult, but for others reading while tripping is the only way to understand, for example, Joyce.
  • Citrus fruit, especially oranges. A mindblowing combination of smell, texture, and taste. Juice is a decent substitute.
  • Crayons or paints for drawing.
  • Drumming can provide a nice trance-inducing experience, either one person doing it for everyone (the Michael Harner shaman approach) or the group doing a drumming circle.
  • Gelatin-based foods, ie. Jell-O, chocolate pudding, etc. Wiggle wiggle wiggle... Gummy worms are nifty too.
  • Glow-in-the-dark anything, preferably not skulls and skeletons though for obvious reasons.
  • Flourescent anything.
  • Flowers (fresh ones) look gorgeous and smell wonderful.
  • Food is another category of its own. In addition to the perennial favorites of citrus fruit, candy and Jell-O, try ice cream, baby food (the fruit-and-berry kind), carbonated soft drinks... Only small portions are needed though, during a trip you can't really _eat_, only _taste_.
  • Incense, especially when it's dark and you can wave the glowing end of the stick around and create serious tracers, or watch the smoke drifting with a flashlight. The smell also adds a nice touch to the atmosphere.
  • Koosh balls, the bigger the better, are positively cosmic. I especially recommend the "Rainbow Koosh" which is big and colorful.
  • Mirrors can be interesting, but also risky. Unless you have high self-esteem, and most people don't, it's common to see your face become covered with hair/bugs/pimples/whatever when you look... but then again many people love mirrors when they trip, and there have been cases where people's self-esteem improved after an extended mirror-staring session.
  • Movies almost deserve their own section. Since everybody has their own favorites, I'll just list the most popular ones. _The Mind's Eye_ and _Beyond the Mind's Eye_, both pure computer animation, are classics. So are Disney's _Fantasia_ and _Alice in Wonderland_. _Koyaanisquatsi_ (sp?) is another favorite. Avoid 'mind-fuck' films like David Lynch's works, _Natural Born Killers_, _Tetsuo_ etc; they're too scary and hard to follow when under the influence.
  • Musical instruments, esp. guitars, are fun to play with.
  • Nature is the ultimate triptoy, period. I extremely strongly recommend going outside, especially at night; I am fully convinced that the forest at night when tripping is *the* coolest thing in the universe. Along with the beach when it's sunny outside, and a lake at sunset, and a snow-covered field on a moonlit night, and...
  • Stroboscopes set to around 20-30 Hz are neat. Warning: Strobe lights may cause seizures in people with undiagnosed epilepsy, test them out beforehand.
  • Stuffed animals are a must, they're a familiar link to reality, and more importantly they're fun to hug, play with or throw around.
  • Television is an ambivalent one; some people like it, others can't think of anything they'd want to do less during a trip. If you want to give it a shot, cartoons (esp. "Reboot") are probably best.
  • Vocal play. Toning (playing with only vowel sounds) or glossolalia (made-up language using vowels and consonents) can be very interesting, either as a group or going around the circle one at a time.
  • Water: you can drink it, you can splash it, and if there's enough you can even wade around in it or (eek!) immerse yourself entirely in it. I would not recommend actually swimming during a trip though, especially in unfamiliar waters. 
 So now you know all about "triptoys."

Interestingly, the FAQ doesn't mention a "watcher" - not the thing that Sagan discusses, but there are two other items mention that are a bit similar in the section on Hallucinations. FYI - CEV and OEV are "Closed-Eye" and "Open-Eye" visuals:

The Guardian (CEV or OEV)
A few people, including yours truly, are lucky enough to have a constant hallucination that lasts for the duration of trip and even afterwards; Castaneda mentions these in his books and calls them "guides" or "guardians". Two forms include a little blue lattice containing red and green blips, and a bright red star. These may or may not recur in different trips and also flash back after the trip itself is over.


Entities (CEV, rarely OEV)
Encounters with other beings are a recurring feature of high-dose trips. I will not tackle the complex philosophical issues of what they are (if anything), how they got there, and what they mean; all I know is that they exist. Some common types:
  • The "mantid", an alien-looking insect-headed creature that tends to appear extremely intelligent and aware and neutral/negative towards the tripper. Can be green or grayish-white.
  • The so-called "DMT elf", a gnome-like playful, funny and usually friendly entity.
  • Happy dancing little people that appear in large groups.
  • Shapeless, but conscious, masses of hyperspace protoplasm.
There are other types, but these four seem to recur quite often.

"Entities" sound closer to what Sagan was on about. Fascinating stuff.