The human brain is often conceptualized as a supercomputer of cosmic complexity, and like all main frames, it can be hacked into and hijacked for a range of different purposes. Getting high is the most popular of these, as evidenced by the ever-increasing rates of global drug use. Fortunately, no one has to hide anything up their bottom for you to join in the fun, as there are a number of much geekier ways to enter an altered state of consciousness without the use of drugs.
The Broadband Squish
The experience known as "reality" is actually just a trick that our brains play on us, by carefully filtering the sensory information that the world presents to us in order to generate a workable perspective on things. The parameters of our consciousness can therefore be modified by destabilizing these finely tuned filters, and one way to do this is by altering their electrical signals, or brainwaves.
Depending on what you want to feel, you’ll need to choose carefully from the menu of different brainwaves and their associated effects. Theta waves, for example, have a frequency of 4 to 8 Hz and are linked to intuition, but can also lead to excessive daydreaming when they are too high in amplitude.
Heather Hargraves studies the therapeutic applications of altered states of consciousness at the University of Western Ontario, and told IFLScience that, when going into trance, “shamans enter into theta states, which is dreamy, intuitive, open but focused in an internal way.” Because of this, it was previously thought that theta waves were the key to psychedelic experiences, yet this all changed when scientists began performing electroencephalography (EEG) studies on people under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs.
Altering one's brainwaves can produce a psychedelic experience. Andrea Danti/Shutterstock
The results of these studies revealed what Hargraves calls a “broadband squish”, whereby all brainwaves in the range of 0 to 20 Hz are “shut down” in certain regions of the brain, before “rebounding”. This effect was particularly noticeable in a brain network called the default mode network, which regulates consciousness and is largely responsible for maintaining a sense of self.
Of course, anyone who attempts to achieve this using drugs becomes a brainwave bandit in the eyes of the law, but Hargraves is helping to develop a legal biohack to bring about the same effect.
Describing the technique as “like meditation with a mirror”, Hargraves says neurofeedback enables people to learn to control their own brainwaves. As a therapist, she uses it to help trauma patients regulate their alpha and beta waves, which tend to cause anxiety and depression when they are overactive.