Posts Tagged ‘ spirituality ’

Inebriation: change for change’s sake

I have elsewhere described three broad categories of drug use: inebriation, enhancement and psychedelia. Of these, inebriation is simultaneously the most basic and the most reviled. Whereas the cultural struggle for acceptance of psychedelia revolves around acknowledgement that it exists at all, inebriation is typically taken to be self-evident, and self-evidently distasteful. I do not share this opinion. In excess, inebriation can certainly be very dangerous (or just plain ugly), but I believe that it has its own time and place, its own legitimacy and its own benefits.

The Basics:

Inebriation is fancy-speak for getting fucked up. The feeling is that normal, sober existence is too frustrating, stressful or just plain boring, and that if we can just do something — anything — to change how we’re feeling, things will be better. Pretty much any drug can accomplish this, as can practices such as fasting, eating, holding your breath, meditating or masturbating.

Of course, you can’t simply have your consciousness be arbitrarily different: depending on what technique of consciousness alteration you use, you’re going to get a particular cluster of effects, with widely varying degrees of predictability. The classic psychedelics, for example, are extremely unpredictable, and can do just about anything. That makes them sound appealing to somebody who’s bored and wants a change, but the change could easily be a lot more dramatic than had been intended: just because you want reality to be altered doesn’t mean you want it to be destroyed completely. Careful practices like meditation on the other hand may come with a host of other benefits and be well worth pursuing, but require a good deal of motivation, effort and discipline, likely to be lacking when we’re in the uncomfortable place of craving an alteration.

A prototypical inebriant therefore will reliably turn down the volume on neurotic self-consciousness, and not do too much else. Despite various well documented adverse effects, alcohol is by far the most popular drug for this purpose, and for good reason: it’s effective, predictable and general in its effects, providing readily scaling levels of inebriation from a slight fuzziness to total annihilation. Cannabis is also highly popular as an inebriant, and is generally safer than alcohol, but is far less predictable.

Why would anybody seek impairment?

Getting “fucked up” sounds like an entirely bad thing. Society highly values lucidity, which it associates with sobriety, so anything which alters consciousness in a way that’s not obviously and directly beneficial is seen by some as categorically unacceptable. This line of thinking is common among high achievers and religious puritans, but may also be informed by experience with problematic drug use such as alcoholism, or for other reasons. It typically comes down to the fear of lost possibilities, the idea that when you drink, you could have done something else instead, like read a book or make a painting. This is generally not actually the case. Those who reject the legitimacy of consciousness alteration generally do so from a privileged position in which consciousness is stable, manageable and positive. Even a common phenomena like stress (experienced very differently by different people) is sufficient to undermine this, let alone variation in life situation or psychological makeup.

Maybe you’ve been working hard all day, or maybe you’re really worried about something, and you just need a break from it all. Obviously, if you get fucked up all the time that’s just going to make things worse if you never take care of whatever problem was stressing you out in the first place, but if you’re past the point of being able to do something about the problem right this minute and can’t get it off our mind, doing something to take the stress off makes total sense, and might actually lead to more productivity or clearer thinking later. A nice bath, a massage or a good orgasm are generally healthier options than getting wasted, but there’s nothing wrong with taking something to help you kick back and relax, as long as you’re reasonably safe about it and get things done at other times. For a lot of people, smoking a joint serves as a great adjunct to a bath, massage or orgasm! Learn how you react to things (both at the time and in the days to follow), and do what seems to produce the most benefit with the least negative effects.

Alterity and Breaking from the Everyday

In speaking of change, we assume a conception of “normality,” a sober “baseline” against which alterations can be compared, and to which we can return. This is, of course, merely a convenient fiction: like history, consciousness does not repeat itself (though it may often rhyme). Further, identifying with the state of consciousness you find most familiar tends to exaggerate the illusion of yourself as static and separate from the Other, an illusion which inebriation may subvert by highlighting variability and hinting at the tenuousness of control. Promoting variety of experience can therefore be inherently useful, a way of “playtesting” reality, allowing for what I have described as “psychic triangulation:” considering a single topic, concept or image in various states of consciousness and comparing the results to get a more robust, multifaceted understanding of it than any one state of consciousness alone could provide. This also relates to our capacity to empathise with a greater diversity of people, and it renders our identity constructs more fluid, revealing their arbitrariness and dynamism, working to disentangle Self from the Everyday.

This break from the everyday is not exclusively about variety: it is also central to the capacity of religion to unite practitioners through the production of sacred space and sacred time. Although they frequently have other meanings as well, religious rituals tend to consist of elements which alter consciousness. Incense, chanting, unusual acoustics or lighting conditions, special clothing and sounds all contribute to the production of an “axis mundi” in which the divine can be experienced. This, I would argue, is essentially the same as entering into a group drug experience, and explains the use of drugs to mark special occasions, such as holidays, graduations or marriages. Through the act of ritually consuming a similar amount of the same drug, collective feeling within the group is established, fostering intimacy and unity. Alcohol and cannabis both to serve in this capacity: cheering commences convivial conversation, connoting comaraderie and cooperation. When a joint is passed around a circle of friends, they share in each other’s spirit and enter into a sacred space together, qualitatively separate from the Everyday that came before. Cannabis may have additional spiritual benefits, but inebriation is all that is required for this type of ritual to function.

To conclude: 

Inebriation describes any drug use where the change in consciousness the drug produces is the objective of its use. Whereas enhancement pertains to some sort of connection between subject and object, and whereas psychedelia seeks the discovery of potentially lasting insights, inebriation is about the experience itself: a desire for something out of the ordinary. This has significant ritual and psychological applications which ought not to be casually dismissed.

To me, the point of consciousness manipulation is to find a dynamic balance. Experimentation is crucial to the process of self discovery, and having tools with which to break out of complacency and ennui can be very valuable.  That said, as we try to break out of our patterns it’s easy to end up creating new, more toxic patterns. That is the meaning of addiction: becoming stuck in one way of experiencing reality, and being unable to flow easily through others. Experiencing inebriation occasionally may be highly beneficial, but do so too often and things might get really bad, really fast.

Embrace variety; don’t get stuck.


After publishing this, I received  two criticisms almost simultaneously. One was that I talked too much about death, and the other was that I didn’t talk enough about danger. Seems death isn’t the point for the one person, and danger is the point for the other. Inspired by these diametrically opposed critiques, I sat down and refined my model. I now have Inebriation as consisting of three subcategories: Disinhibition, Sedation and Variation (Disinhibition bleeds into the Enhancement subcategory of Ability, and Variation bleeds into the Psychedelic category of Insight). Disinhibition is the one about “danger” (and freedom, and shenanigans) which I didn’t adequately cover in this article. This addendum is to note the theoretical alteration, and to point out that danger/disinhibition is important even though I didn’t get into it much above. This will be more fully addressed in a subsequent article.


Caring for the Body

Before a trip, you should consider how it’s going to affect your body. Aside from complex and unpredictable psychological or spiritual effects, will it physically* hurt you? Fortunately, the physical effects, at least from the “classic” (seretonergic) psychedelics are usually both predictable and mild. In this article I will begin by laying out how to take care of yourself during a “typical” psychedelic trip, and end with a brief overview of some concerns related to some of the other substances which may have psychedelic uses.

Nausea is the most common source of discomfort during a trip. Some psychedelics are more nauseating than others — 2C-E is usually more nauseating than shrooms which are usually more nauseating than LSD, for example. Generally the nausea starts soon after dosing and goes away within half an hour, although at the time it may feel like it’s going to last all night. To minimise this, make sure not to have eaten much just before dosing! Best-practices are to have a light breakfast and dose 45 minutes later, or to take a mild fast. Keep in mind that if you puke, it might make your trip more intense!

Muscle tension and/or strange sensations in the body are also common, especially during the come-up. A lot of people have a specific place they always feel something weird, but it’s not consistent between people — for me it’s my throat, possibly because of my asthma. Tremors (shaking) and involuntary or semi-voluntary contractions are common as well, and because of this you should never take psychedelics if pregnant. Spontaneous uterine contractions = induced labour = miscarriage. Otherwise, this typically isn’t a problem, although if you’re prone to cramping it’s possible that something may be activated (lockjaw, for example). Interestingly, unlike other causes of tremors or contractions, these tend to become milder over repeated trips, and for that reason Stanislov Grof suggests that they represent not a problem but a therapeutic release of tension (funk not only moves, it can re-move. Dig?).

Appetite/sleep loss are also common. Sleep is usually not possible until you’re completely sober, and you probably won’t be hungry. This is only a problem if you plan poorly! Food and sleep are important, yo — take care of them both before and after. Be sure to check the duration of the drug you’re taking, and, pro-tip: if your “acid” has a strong bitter taste, it’s probably DOI, which lasts far longer than LSD (acid has a mildly bitter taste, but the amount in a normal dose is too small for most people to notice). This is why they say “if it’s bitter, it’s a spitter;” DOI can be a good time, assuming you have nowhere to be this week.

Heart rate/blood pressure changes deserve mention because they contraindicate tripping for anyone with heart problems or dangerous circulation issues, but for most people this simply isn’t an issue. If you didn’t have heart problems going in, you’re not going to develop them because of a trip. It’s vasoconstrictive, but so is, say, a walk in the snow.

Fatigue. Tripping is work. You may have more thoughts in five minutes than you normally have in five hours, all captivating and highly salient. After a whole day of this, expect to be worn out! Most psychedelics don’t leave a “hangover” to speak of, but give yourself lots of time to rest up and think about the experience.

Frequent urination. You may find you need to pee constantly during a trip. Try not to let this distract from introspection! In some cases, the tripper doesn’t actually have a full bladder, but feels the need to pee anyway. If you catch yourself constantly expecting to pee but then nothing actually coming out… just let go! Terrifying as it sounds, accept the possibility of peeing yourself, go into that, follow those thoughts and see where they go. You might even have an epiphany related to your need for control, and emerge a better person for it. Much better than wasting your trip by constantly going back and forth between bathroom and couch!

Literally everything else. LSD has been called a “non-specific amplifier” of latent and manifest psychological contents. Ever heard of psychosomatic conditions? That’s where you have a physical experience of something because of your mental contents. Because of the way psychedelics reveal and amplify things below the surface, literally anything can happen. Limb paralysis, strange rashes… anything. This can be very unsettling, and it may be impossible to parse a bizarre trip-related experience from something unrelated and life threatening. It’s far more common, though, for something pre-existing to become very obvious, or a thought pattern to manifest physically, than for something actually dangerous to be going on. It’s not altogether rare for people to think they’re dying during a trip, and have physical sensations that seem to confirm it. If that’s happening… amazing! Horrible as the experience may be in the moment, accepting it and passing through might be the most profoundly beneficial thing you could possibly experience. No matter how it feels, it’s almost certainly not the case that you’ve actually been poisoned; you can’t overdose on most psychedelics. Whatever you’re feeling, don’t run from it! Usually, as soon as you accept it and go where it’s taking you, it will transform from fear and pain into radiant beauty.

Before a trip, pamper yourself. Eat healthy, get plenty of sleep, do anything that makes you feel your best (massage? Yoga?). Got any physical concerns you’re worried about? Get them checked out; there’s no point obsessing over questions you can’t answer during your trip, when you could have answered them before. You want to come into it feeling your best, with as few worries as possible.

The day of your trip, eat a good, healthy breakfast (some people prefer to fast, and that can be good, but do so carefully). If you’re going to be dosing later in the day, a light meal an hour beforehand might be a good idea. While high you might think more about things like dietary purity than usual, so save yourself a guilty conscience by only eating foods you consider “pure” or “good” beforehand, whether that means vegan, halal/kosher or “all natural.” For the trip itself, have lots of water and some simple, single ingredient foods on hand: rice, bread, fruit (grapefruit, mango, grapes, pineapple), etc. Don’t get too fancy, as normally delicious foods might confuse or repulse. You probably won’t be hungry at all for the first half of the trip, but once you “remember” that you need to eat, having something simple, healthy and high in carbohydrates can make you feel worlds better and provide much needed energy. Several of my respondents have talked about discovering how amazing plain white rice and water truly are!

Getting exercise and/or stretching before, during and after can both help with any muscle tension and make the trip much better, allowing you to move more freely and just generally feel good. Spiritual or energetic exercise practices like yoga and qi gong can be especially rewarding, though you should know that they could be way more intense than you’re used to, which means that you might be able to access certain mental states you aren’t ready for. Proceed with caution and drink plenty of water, but know that exercise while tripping can feel amazing! 

Lastly, make sure to get some sleep. It’s important! Drugs like acid last a long time and you need time to rest and recover, so make sure you’ve got plenty of extra time with somewhere comfortable to stay and nothing you need to do immediately after.

Alright, time for a super-brief rundown on some other popular substances sometimes used for tripping and their “side effects” (physiological effects likely to be perceived as negative). This is not meant to be an exhaustive list; Google is your friend, as is the word “contraindications.”

Cannabis: lowers blood pressure; if smoked can cause sore throat and/or coughing in the short term, bronchitis in the long term; “cottonmouth” or other strange feelings in the body (not dangerous); risk of transmitting infections from sharing smoking/vapourising equipment; some are allergic to it. Be sure to have something soothing to drink handy, and be careful what you mix it with — it often makes other drugs much stronger!

MDMA: increased heart rate and blood pressure; muscle tension; teeth grinding; “gutrot” (digestive complaints); sleep loss; appetite loss; hyperthermia (overheating) and the potential for both dehydration and overhydration (can make you want to drink more water than is healthy); difficulty getting an erection; burnout/”sketch” which compound with regular use. Avoid using too much or too often, take 5-HTP and B vitamins to minimise sketch, make sure you drink an appropriate amount of water and have some chewing gum or even a pacifier to prevent teeth grinding.

Ayahuasca: nausea, diarrhea (vomiting very common, referred to as “the purge”); potentially dangerous interaction with other medicines. Following a careful diet is recommended. Have something you can puke into.

Deliriants (datura, belladonna, benedryl, gravol): extreme drowsiness; loss of motor control; overdose may cause paralysis and death. In general, just avoid these; they’re too dangerous and usually neither fun nor beneficial. If you must try them, be very careful of your dosage and be sure to have someone sober watching over you!

Salvia: Sore throat and/or coughing; loss of motor control, possible flailing or erratic movement. Be somewhere comfortable, always have a trip sitter so you don’t climb out a window or something (that kind of thing is rare, but, come on, it lasts 10 minutes; surely a friend can watch you for that long), and make sure there aren’t any knives, glass objects or whatnot nearby on which you could hurt yourself.

Ketamine: nasal or sinus irritation and “drip” if snorted; nausea/vomiting; excessive long term use can cause bladder damage and “k pains” (intense pain in the back/sides; not dangerous). Have something to puke in and some napkins or handkerchiefs handy, make sure to do it in a safe/comfortable place where it won’t freak people out if you k-hole, and don’t take it all the time — occasional use has all of the benefits and none of the bladder failure or addiction.

The safety profile for most psychedelics is far better than that of, say, aspirin. Most psychedelics are not significantly toxic, and deaths are extremely rare, usually related to people accidentally taking far too much of a research chemical. Just… be responsible. Tripping can be very rewarding, but that benefit will be quickly erased if you spend days without sleeping, and you’ll have a much better trip if you take good care of yourself before, during and after.

*I do not mean to imply that the “physiological” and “psychological” are ultimately separable. On the contrary, they are intimately linked, and any change in one will effect a change in the other (as well as each with the “sociological”).