Psychedelics drugs are increasingly being studied for their potential to treat depression and other mental health issues, although little attention has been given to some of the stranger effects of these consciousness-altering substances. In an attempt to fill this void, a new study in the Journal of Humanistic Psychology describes the range of “anomalous experiences” that commonly accompany the use of psychedelics, and they’re predictably bonkers.
An anomalous experience is defined as an event that “deviate[s] from ordinary experience or from usually accepted explanations of reality according to Western mainstream science,” which is pretty familiar territory for psychedelics users. Think inter-dimensional portholes and paranormal activity and you’re on the right track.
After reviewing all of the available scientific literature relating to psychedelic experiences, study author David Luke identifies and categorizes a variety of what he calls “transpersonal” and “parapsychological” events. He begins with possibly the least offensive violation of the laws of nature on the list, describing how up to 57 percent of LSD users experience synesthesia, whereby the various senses become entangled so that it becomes possible to “see” sounds or “hear” colors. A particularly common form of this phenomenon is grapheme-color synaesthesia, which occurs when certain letters or numerals elicit the experience of color.
Progressing through the list of experiences, we come to what Luke calls “extradimensional percepts”, which are geometric forms that apparently exist in some other realm beyond the reach of our regular senses, yet which suddenly reveal themselves thanks to the mind-expanding effects of psychedelics.
Out-of-body experiences, defined as “the perception that one’s self or center of awareness is located outside of the physical body,” are supposedly reported by 44 percent of psychedelic users in general and 62 percent of ayahuasca users. Similarly, near-death experiences, including the sensation of “dying, rebirth, or memory of a past life,” have been reported by around a third of people who use a substance called 5-MeO-DMT, most commonly found in the secretions of the Colorado River toad.
Moving up through the psychedelic gears, we reach the level of alien abductions, which tend to involve the experience of being taken aboard a strange vessel and probed and prodded by extra-terrestrial beings, with whom it is usually possible to communicate telepathically. No figures are available for the prevalence of this experience, although it is considered a common enough occurrence to make it onto the list.
Some 70 percent of ayahuasca users, as well as many people who ingest psilocybin mushrooms, have also reported interspecies communication, whereby they are able to interact with either the psychedelic plant they have just consumed or some other non-human organism.
“When people do dialogue with nature on psychedelics, there is often an ecological message, as might be expected, rebuking humanity for its widespread destruction of natural habitats,” explains Luke.
Finally, between 19 and 40 percent of psychedelics users are thought to have had some sort of “mediumistic” experience, which can include anything from spirit possession to temporary clairvoyance.
The study doesn’t attempt to explain any of these anomalous experiences or to pass judgment on their validity or authenticity. Instead, it serves as an extremely trippy reminder as to the huge range of effects that psychedelics can produce, revealing how little we really understand about these mind-bending substances.