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Meditation vs. Happy Drugs 2: the Intoxicated Mind

May 25, 2008

Charles Tart coined the term altered states of consciousness in the 70’s. These states can be achieved either through physical stimulation, spiritual discipline or substance use.

True, both meditators and drug users said that they experience different state(s) of consciousness or awareness during the practice/ drug use. Yet, is it the same kind of experience?

Recently MDMA users reported their subjective experiences of altered awareness [1]:
– perceptual alterations, e.g. visual and/ or auditory
– entactogenesis: people feel positive about both themselves and the wider world around them.
– prosocial effects: become more social/ feel socially related to others
– esthetic and mood effects
– negative intoxication effects, e.g. memory problem, headaches, burnt-out
– sexual effects: both positive (more pleasure) and negative (e.g. difficult to maintain arousal state or to achieve orgasm).
However, the investigators could not exclude other drugs influencing the results since polysubstance misuse (e.g. cannabis) were common among the respondents.

Uh oh, some of those effects sound quite familiar to meditators (point 1-4). Headache is also possible during some sessions. Actually not only aches but pains as well, both mental and physical.

My friend mentioned that when she uses either marijuana or MDMA-(derivates) she feels more relaxed, less worried about the future or the past. This sounds quite similar to the experience of meditators of ‘living in the present!’

Yet, I found this article reporting that MDMA users indeed can more avidly experience being-in-the present compared to others since they suffer from cognition impairment [2]. They had poorer performance in each of the neurocognitive domains: attention/ concentration, (non)verbal learning and memory, motor/ psychomotor speed, executive system functioning.

Since their short/ long term memory gets worse, some user said that he had troubles remembering what he had said at the beginning of his sentence when he was finishing it. On the other hand, this phenomenon of course could enhance the feeling of being-in-the-present, since there’s literally no past exists in their short memory span.

These do not sound like the effects of meditation anymore, huh?

I will embark upon the examination of the (neurocognitive) effects found in meditators in the next post.


[1] Sumnall HR, Cole JC and Jerome L (2006) The varieties of ecstatic experience: an exploration of the subjective experiences of ecstasy. J Psyschopharmacol 20:670-82.

[2] Kalechstein AD et al. (2007) MDMA use and neurocognition: a meta-analytic review. Psychopharmacology 189:531-7.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Ben permalink
    November 26, 2008 00:29

    I’m one who has frequented both meditation and psychedelics (among other practices) as a gateway to achieving a great breadth of mental, spiritual, and psychological goals

    psychedelics fo many act as a stepping-stone to a world that meditation can similarly transport you, but I think the substance opens the eye, and the meditation keeps it open in a more “safe” manner

    I recommend “Zig Zag Zen” excellent book…deals with this exact conflict

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