Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Dream Tripping: Dream Drugs as Metaphor

by Arthur Gillard

If someone takes a psychoactive drug while physically awake, it changes her brain chemistry and so alters her state of consciousness. Taking a drug in a dream is a very different proposition, however - in that realm a drug would actually be a metaphor for an intention to change your consciousness in a particular way, and as such is an interesting and useful technique for those who utilize state changes as part of a spiritual path (or just as a means of exploring the possibilities of their own mind). Ann Faraday discusses this type of “high dreaming” in her book Dream Power:

I had several high dreams during and after the period of my [legal] drug research, and the one I remember most vividly still remains somewhat of a mystery to me. In this dream, I found myself on a desert island with some friends when a storm blew up. As we stood and watched the lightning flash across the sky and the waves beating against the rocks, I thought, "I wish I had some acid now." My wish immediately became reality, and I reached a "high" in the dream. For a timeless moment, I danced, flashed, and roared with the storm and seemed to merge with the "being" at the center of it. On regaining normal consciousness in the dream, I turned to my friends and said, "You need acid to see the devil in the storm," and they nodded their comprehension. I woke up feeling exhilarated and joyful beyond belief, a feeling which remained with me for several days. Here again is evidence that the "high" state can be produced without drugs - in this case it was a mental image of LSD which succeeded in bringing about the ecstatic dream experience.

In contrast to Charles Tart's article on "high dreams" in Altered States of Consciousness, Faraday suggests that it may be possible to experience such a state in a dream without having experienced it first in waking life. Most of Tart's data comes from subjects who had participated in LSD research and subsequently had similar experiences in dreams. Faraday reports, however, that she experienced her first high dream long before her research with psychedelics. One fascinating aspect of this phenomenon mentioned by Tart is that some of the subjects experienced a continuation of the altered state for a few minutes after they woke up. Terence McKenna, who had extensive experience with psilocybin and DMT, mentioned in an interview that he has experienced "full-blown DMT experiences" after taking the substance in a dream, and that this experience sometimes persisted for a few moments after waking. It would be interesting to speculate on whether taking a drug in a dream is literally altering your brain chemistry, or even if naturally occurring psychedelics in the brain could be involved in the normal dreaming process. After all, it is known that a small amount of a psychedelic taken before going to sleep - an amount too small to produce a noticeable effect if taken while awake - will extend the period of REM dreaming. The Lucidity Institute Lucid Dreaming FAQ states, "Drugs in the LSD family, including psilocybin and tryptamines actually stimulate REM sleep (in doses small enough to allow sleep), leading to longer REM periods." They add, "we do not recommend the use of drugs without proper guidance nor do we urge the breaking of laws," an important qualification with which I fully agree.

Regardless of the possible role of endogenous psychedelics in "normal" brain chemistry and natural altered states such as dreaming, it may be worthwhile to experiment with "dream drugs" as a metaphor for intended alterations of consciousness - that is, to deliberately steer the dreaming mind in a particular direction. Obviously, if one has experienced the effect of a particular drug while awake - be it LSD, alcohol, ecstasy, marijuana or whatever - it would be possible to compare the states produced in the dream and those produced while awake. However, even if one has never experienced a given drug in waking life, knowing what the effects of the drug are said to be may be sufficient to produce a useful altered state in the dream environment. A.S. Kay, in the article "Psychedelics and Lucid Dreaming: Doorways in the Mind," mentions a dreamer's experience of taking MDMA [ecstasy] in a dream, then notes, "The dreamer had...not yet taken MDMA in waking life. Shortly after this dream he did try it and found the experience to be very similar." Kay points out the rich array of possibilities open to someone who chooses this line of experimentation:

A particularly "psychedelic" way of programming your choice is to decide which dream drug to take in a lucid state. If you take dream-MDMA you will have a heart-level bonding experience, which can be used to clear negative patterns with parents, lovers or friends, or to enhance awareness of the perfection of your self, and every other person. If you take dream-LSD you can more easily tune into the unconscious realms and the spiritual channels, etc. You might even try creating your own brand of psychedelic, with attributes of your fancy. If you are really daring, take a totally unknown drug, and let it take you where it will. Everything you learn will mirror your mind! You will reach totally new and uncharted lands, which are yet somehow familiar!

Speculative and science fiction stories also offer good ideas for compounding your dream drug...time warpers would be drugs that dilate or contract time, or allow time travel to past and future lives. Or take a stripper drug that peels away layer after layer of whatever you see/feel to reveal its deeper essence - then dream a mirror and fall into your core! Or design a transference drug that allows you to be fully in another's mind, or in an alien consciousness. Of course there are all manner of telepathy-enhancing drugs you could conjure, as well as dream tripmates to play with. The list is an endless as your fantasy world, and as deep as your calling.

No matter how you feel about using psychedelic or other drugs while physically awake, you may find it worthwhile to experiment with their metaphorical analogs in dreams. In dreamland you don't have to worry about breaking the law, nor about the possible purity or even identity of black market drugs. You need not worry about the safety of your physical body. And in the fluid state of dreams, you may be able to go much deeper into a state than you would during an analogous experience initiated in consensus reality. As John Lilly aptly noted, "In the province of the mind, there are no limits."

Exercise: Taking a dream drug

If you have developed the ability to dream lucidly, choose to take a drug in a lucid dream. A simple way to find such a drug – or anything else you need – in a lucid dream is to reach into your pocket and know that it will be there (trust me, this works). [If you have not yet developed lucid dreaming ability but wish to do so, see the article Lucid Dreaming on this blog.] An alternative approach would be to use dream incubation techniques to create the intention of taking a particular drug in your dreams. The simplest way to accomplish this would be to firmly repeat the intention to yourself just before you go to bed, or as you are falling asleep – e.g. “Tonight I will take LSD.”


The first four references are resources which provide a rich source of information on the effects of drugs, which can be used as inspiration for “dream drugs.”

1. Erowid has a vast library of detailed information on every mind-altering drug imaginable, as well as thousands of user reports.

2. Alexander Shulgin & Ann Shulgin, Pihkal: A Chemical Love Story (Berkeley: Transform Press, 1995).

3. Alexander Shulgin & Ann Shulgin, Tihkal: The Continuation (Berkeley: Transform Press, 1997).

4. D.M. Turner, The Essential Psychedelic Guide (San Francisco: Panther Press, 1994) [Now available online.]

5. Ann Faraday, Dream Power (New York: HaperCollins 1980).

6. A.S. Kay, Psychedelics and Lucid Dreaming: Doorways in the Mind, Psychedelic Monographs and Essays, Issue 3: Dec. 1987. [Available online here.]

7. Charles Tart, Altered States of Consciousness (New York: HarperCollins 1990).

8. The Lucidity Institute Lucid Dreaming FAQ is available here.


This article was written and contributed by Arthur Gillard.

see also:
Lucid Dreaming
Lucid Dreaming and Awakening: an Interview with Robert Augustus Masters
Dream Yoga

The Integral News and Views blog aims to explore accessible and practical integral perspectives for people who are interested in getting beyond fragmented worldviews, who desire intimacy with all that they are, and who wish to help the world, themselves, and others evolve and thrive in a mutually beneficial and sustainable manner.

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