Candice Holdsworth
Candice Holdsworth

Psychonauts: Blasting off into mindspace

“I didn’t know if it was my birth I was re-experiencing; or my death, which was yet to come.

This is the actual core of where all of reality is emanating from. This is where meaning comes from. Symbols were pouring out, they were intertwined, every symbol and letter in every language was pouring out of this point.”

“And so I went right into this white light and as soon as I went into it, I lost any sense of being different, any sense of what I was doing, past, any sense of future. It was absolutely blissful and euphoric and I just felt like it wasn’t I.

I was everything. I was the light.

There is no sense of separation, no shadows, no differences, no past, no future, no present.”

These two individuals were part of a controlled experiment carried out in the early 1990s by Dr Rick Strassman, an American psychiatrist, to study the neurochemical effects of DMT (N, N-Dimethyltryptamine), a naturally occurring psychoactive compound. The participants were injected with the substance and their reactions monitored by Strassman and his team.

The excerpts above are from the beautifully crafted documentary DMT: The Spirit Molecule (2010) where, as interview subjects, the participants describe their hallucinatory experiences.

Quantum Consciousness (3)

Dr Strassman and his assistants were able to observe the powerful effects of this psychedelic drug on human consciousness. An individual’s entire perception of reality: space, time, etc. could be radically disrupted or even obliterated altogether, by simply altering their brain chemistry.

Their state of mind was transformed to such an extent that they could no longer identify themselves as human.

“More and more layers of my humanity start peeling off. Finally, the last layer and I can’t even describe what that is but at some far reach, way in there, you have the last layer, which defines you as a human being and it goes pffft. You are no longer a human being. You are no longer anything you can identify.” – Patricio Dominguez, a participant in the experiment.

Psychedelics enable exploration of these fundamental parts of our cognisance. Whilst under the influence of DMT, temporal and spatial awareness recedes and the ego dissipates, giving rise to a feeling of “oneness with the universe”.

It can be described metaphorically as “quantum” consciousness, where all the known physical laws of nature and logic are overturned: a state of “pure being” without any sense of a clear and finite identity.

One experiences a profound, cosmic sense of self; acutely aware of existence, of simply being.

“I was everything. I was the light.”

“There is no sense of separation, no shadows, no differences …”

I am infinite.

As Cynthia Geist, a nurse who attended to the participants in the DMT study, says in the documentary:

It’s amazing, amazing what a human being can experience in a hospital bed. I mean they can experience almost the whole Universe: life, death, everything in between.”

Unfortunately, as Dr Strassman was unable to fully model the findings of the DMT experiments, he could only hypothesise as to precisely what these experiences were.

In the film he says that DMT may be a type of transmission chemical that allows the brain to receive information it ordinarily cannot, creating the ability to experience alternate universes, parallel dimensions, etc. – all of which are postulated in modern theoretical physics.

This is conjecture. The DMT experience may not, in fact, be attributable to multiverses or co-extending dimensions but that does not diminish it. It still provides unique insight into the functioning of the human brain – of which we still have so much to understand.

Ethnopharmacologist Dennis McKenna, also interviewed in the documentary, describes the experience of DMT as delving into the source code of consciousness.

“ Immersing oneself in the raw data sphere of sensory input, of memories, associations … the brain builds reality out of these things.”

In these psychedelic dreams where we swim to the nebulous depths of perception, submerging ourselves in the mystery of the human psyche.

There is a whole universe inside my mind.

Image: Candice Holdsworth

  • mk

    DMT is the most intense and illegal psychedelic drug known to man (1971 United Nation’s Convention on Psychotropic Substances Act). Will the publish of studies regarding this drug not just create a bigger hype for it? We should not entice people to use it.

  • http://nil Gillian Katz van der Heijden

    Interesting, but these experiences are drug induced, whereas the experiences in altered consciousness as practised by ancient religous prophets were not drug induced by true psychic and prophetic perceptions of things to come in a space where
    enternity is the ever present time.

  • Jenni

    Dearie – Please step away from the coffee and tell us the name of the film….

  • george orwell

    Whatever blows your hair back.

    But I’m not sure this article has much relevance to the very real, nitty-gritty problems we face in South Africa?

    Okay, the article is all about escape into dreamy, hedonistic, psychedelic, narcissistic introspection

    But perhaps we should eschew mental indulgence and rather step forward into a kind of Zen understanding (free of pharmaceuticls) that the human race needs to face up to hard reality.

    We all – from childhood upwards, with parental encouragement – escape endlessly into Disney /Hollywood /infantile / TV series /psychedelic escape states.

    Perhaps this MindSpace Self-Indulgence explains why the planet’s such a mess?

    # Huge gap between elites and working class
    # Pollution
    # Excess consumption and waste
    # Disappearing forests and animal species due to crude human entitlement

  • J.J.

    “There is a whole universe inside my mind.”

    Indeed, there is. I think you would find Carl Gustav Jung’s work interesting in this respect.

  • J.J.

    The objective for any human (when they can tear themselves away from their distractions) should be for us to:

    … “experience a profound, cosmic sense of self; acutely aware of existence, of simply being”

    – without the benefit of drugs.

    The sense (and acute knowing) that we are part of and indeed an extension of the universe (“you have a universe inside of you”), brings on an understanding of our responsibility to the planet and to all others due to our interconnectedness as all being a part of the universe. From this perspective, how much sense does war make? If I hurt another, I hurt myself.

    I understand the point George Orwell makes about exploring these topics for pure escapism, but on the other hand it is fundamentally important to understand our place in the universe and why we are here. People still ask those question on their death-beds. It’s better to have already arrived at the answers to those questions before actually arriving in your death-bed. So I’m all for the exploring of consciousness.

  • Charlie

    Did they do any brain scans?

  • Stephen Browne

    George Orwell:

    I think you’ll find the taking of psychedelic substances eclipse class, race, etc. You would be surprised how many ancient cultures revered these sorts of substances.

    From my perspective I’m not phased either way. But if people are allowed to go to religious gatherings and subsequently make some shitty life-choices (pick one!), I don’t see why others shouldn’t be allowed to get religious in their own way.

    In regards your last #, one of the natural out-workings of DMT, shrooms, and other similar substances is a closer connection to the world around us. I’d argue the opposite of what you say is true: stupid, sober, people (unless you count the alcohol they’re encouraged to guzzle down) endlessly grasping at new toys.

    I’m not saying all drugs are awesome and we should all take them. but we need to get some perspective. Allow studies, encourage dialogue. This brain-dead approach of smashing everything with the mailed fist of the law stinks (and is actually one of the primary tools the elites use to suppress the working class.)

  • Joe Citizen

    # george orwell – By what decree must every article on Thought Leader be related to the nitty-gritty problems in South Africa?

  • Joe Kutoane

    For those whose physiological make-up is predisposed to schizophrenia and other mental issues, such drugs would be then end of life.

    Unless value can be derived by the greater population from such experiences, then maybe we should stick to faith.

  • Rory Short

    I see this as research into human consciousness but its action is in a sense external in that there is no lasting beneficial change in the consciousness of the research subjects. Spiritual practices within various Religious traditions bring about beneficial, permanent, changes in individual consciousness without the use of drugs.

  • Christopher E

    DMT is a powerful psychedelic used for millennia in such preparations as ayahuasca among south american native tribes. It is also nearly ubiquitous in nature, being produced in human beings and all mammals, as well as many plant species.
    Gillian Katz van der Heijden #states that the experience is invalid since it a drug experience, whilst similar visionary states produced by meditation etc are. However, I posit that the state is the same, and benefit can be extracted from it. In the modern society of the west, I do not know of many people who have the time to devote to years of training to stimulate deep visionary states through non-drug means. A spiritual awakening is a preclude to learning how to love oneself and nature so as to be a synchronistic and beneficial part of nature. A single dmt experience helped me be released from a state of deep suicidal depression, PTSD and addiction I had struggled with for decades. In 12 minutes, the possibility of suicide was removed from my life , whereas 12 years of therapy only put it off another day-maybe.
    We desperately need new tools in our psychotherapeautic toolbox, the tryptamine class of drugs, of which DMT, LSD and psilocybin are part of may give us this (not so) new resource.
    Go to to see the results of current and recent studies along these lines, and dont be so close minded as to not refuse to accept something that governmental agencies have dissuaded you from thinking about objectively