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Nitrite inhalants and hallucinations
Inhalants - Nitrites (Amyl Nitrite, Butyl Nitrite)
Citation:   Michael Thalbourne. "Nitrite inhalants and hallucinations: An Experience with Inhalants - Nitrites (Amyl Nitrite, Butyl Nitrite) (exp57090)". Dec 21, 2007.

  inhaled Inhalants - Nitrites (gas)
Can Volatile Nitrite Inhalants be Hallucinogenic?

Nitrite inhalants (commonly known as “poppers”) come in the form of amyl, butyl, and isobutyl nitrite. They are used most frequently in a sexual context to heighten arousal, producing a “high” which generally lasts just a few minutes. They are regarded by the public as being the softest drug available, and sometimes not even a drug at all, and are freely available without legal sanction.
The nitrite literature with which I am most familiar is a single paragraph in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fourth Edition (American Psychiatric Association, 1994, p. 270). I have also more recently read literature provided to me by my colleague Dr. Vernon Neppe (personal communication, September 29, 2006). In the DSM, a reasonable description of the effects of nitrites is given, but I note that no reference whatsoever is made to hallucinations, which are cited in one of the several documents provided to me by Dr. Neppe. In this article I wish to explore the possibility that, at least in certain personality types, hallucinations may indeed occur. In the main I shall be giving an autobiographical account.
The first event which is relevant is when, in March 2005 I was watching the DVD of the movie The Fall of the Roman Empire. At one point, when a philosopher is about to address the senate, the DVD froze, and nothing I could do would make it start moving again. But I noticed on the speaker’s face a patch of purple and green. This was the start of many occasions where I saw purple and green together, faintly, most notably on computer monitors and on pieces of white paper, a phenomenon that I experience to this day. Much later, when I went to an ophthalmologist to try to throw light on this phenomenon, he declared that it was due to chromatic aberration, “an optical aberration in a lens, caused by a defect and leading to different colored light being refracted differently.” It has also been pointed out to me recently that purple and green are complementary colors. However, none of this information did I have at the time—it has only been available in the last few months.
I am not sure when it began, but I think after the viewing of the DVD, I began to see light phenomena on the ceiling of my bedroom. The first were what I called “sun disks”, because they were yellow, round, and about 3 centimetres across. They would frequently begin in a rather mottled or shaded area of the ceiling, dash about rapidly, often ending up in the cornice, all in the space of about 6 seconds. I tried, using a Polaroid camera, to capture these on film, but the sun disks’ ephemeral nature made this difficult, and the one picture I succeeded in getting is not satisfactory (e.g., for some reason it has a red background rather than a white one).
The other major light phenomenon was what I originally called “strings” and subsequently re-named “streamers”, because what I would see is short or long purple and green rods that seem to be paired up with each other, travelling slowly over the ceiling. I still see thousands of these on a white computer screen. This phenomenon was visible to me in my normal state, but I must say that it was much more visible when under the influence of nitrite, which I deemed to be having a facilitating effect on perception of the real world, just as beta-carotene has a facilitating effect on night vision. It now seems reasonable to me to suppose that all these phenomena were due to chromatic aberration. One day, the whole room turned a very dark purple, and I took a Polaroid photo of the Venetian blinds, which came out the normal color of the blinds, namely, white.
My colleague Paul Stevens had this to say (personal communication, 23rd July, 2006) in regard to the seeing of colors:

You’re surely just describing after-images here. Green is a common after-image from fixating on a white field, and violet/pink/red is the complementary colour for green (and will often fringe the green after-image). Whether someone will see it or not depends on how steadily fixated they are on the white, and for how long (30 seconds is usually enough for most people to experience it).

When the lighting is right, the light fixture in the middle of my bedroom throws a shadow on the ceiling that I was to call “the ovoid”, because of its shape. Now the light fixture is interesting because, immediately upon inhalation of nitrite, it would appear to move a number of centimetres across the ceiling (without regard for the electrical connections!). Moreover, in the torus-shaped glass, it would often seem that “chunks” of streamer were going around and around at great speed, and the streamers “so created” would climb the metal pole to the conical shaped top of the fixture, and travel along the shadow of the pole to the shadow of the torus, which is to say, the ovoid. This ovoid could be easily seen, not as a two-dimensional shadow, but as a three-dimensional sphere, and would often rotate (on at least two occasions seeming to turn into a terrestrial globe). Inside the ovoid would be various variations of purple and green. Sometimes small spots of yellow would grow into sun disks (and indeed I have been able to concentrate on them and cause them to grow by concentration), and these would try to escape the confines of the ovoid: if they were large enough they would manage, after a few seconds, to penetrate the rim or rind of the ovoid and get through, however, the smaller ones seemed usually unable to so penetrate.
The ovoid also seemed to produce quantities of purple streamers and quantities of green streamers that would “search” the area like the beam from a lighthouse. I have experienced these beams when lying athwart the end of my bed, passing from top to toe, they have also “rained” pieces of streamer onto me, and into my eyes, with no damage, but also with no sense of my being touched.
The fate of sun disks also requires comment. Usually, they would travel up to the cornice, and there were “translated” into what I call “plasmoids”, which were round bodies somewhat like soap bubbles of quite varying sizes, which would travel down, sometimes to my hand (especially when I said, repeatedly, “Come to me! Come to me!”), but frequently went off to my right-hand side, where I assumed they were destroyed. But one day I noticed that, stretched out from the end of the bed to one of the pieces of furniture at some distance from the bed, there was an almost-translucent “veil” apparently made of the remnants of the plasmoids, sometimes containing miniature “spiral galaxies”. This veil, like a spider’s web, could be disrupted by passing a hand through it. From time to time, the ovoid would “suck up” the veil, I guessed because it needed material for its ongoing productions.
Though I have more phenomena of a different nature, and which I shall come to in a short while, I think that it would be appropriate to pause for a moment and consider the psychological mechanisms going on. If we make the assumption that what I experienced can, for the most part, be explained in terms of chromatic aberration and complementary colors, then I am not perceiving external entities but rather experiencing visual illusions, made all the more convincing by the effect of nitrite inhalation. Such inhalation temporarily lowers blood pressure, and Paul Stevens comments that in this circumstance “there is the possibility of some visual blurring, which again could enhance after-image-fringing effects of bright fields.” He also says that, concerning the behavior of streamers, “If these effects are related to after-images, then the voluntary and involuntary movements of your eyes would affect how they move.”
However, in the absence of these explanations, I went for a long time assuming that what I was seeing was real, and the fact that I saw a good many of the phenomena while not taking nitrite, even though fainter, convinced me that I was not hallucinating due to the drug.
We move on to the perception of movement by objects. One of the oddest of these occurred when I was in bed with my duna over me. I would notice that, at a distant part of the duna, a “wave” would very slowly approach me. I knew that my legs were in another part of the bed, and that therefore my limbs were not causing the motion. I have also seen the duna “breathe”, a section of it billowing out, and then dropping back to its normal level. (I have seen a plastic bottle “breathe” in this way also.) I have seen my dressing gown—draped over a pedestal fan—moving slowly. And I have seen the strands of areas of carpet stand up and move, like a field of corn after the harvest. On the table next to my bed, I have seen a cassette jumping along, however, when I interposed another object in its path, I noticed that it never reached the obstacle. I also noticed that the three paintings in my bedroom would loudly strain at their nails, and one of them, a picture of a young man, would become three-dimensional, with the organs (especially the heart) beating visibly.
Perhaps the most striking phenomenon of all was as follows, occurring when I had my Scottish highland rug on top of my duna. I was sitting in my bed, and had a momentary mystical recognition that I was (also) Julius Caesar, since we all are everybody else, living and deceased. And then a bit later, I noticed that a few strands of the fringe of the rug had formed themselves into the shape of two small (10 cm high) peacocks, exquisitely executed, with crests on their heads, and with tails swept back. Now there is a connection between these two events: I had read Colleen McCullough, who in one of her novels set in Republican Roman times, had stated that when he was a boy, Caesar had a nickname, “Pavo”, which is Latin for “Peacock”.
At the time, I took all these events to be part of external, objective reality. However, I am now entertaining a new hypothesis, namely, that these events seem to go beyond the description in terms of visual illusions, into the realm of frank hallucination. What psychometric evidence is consistent with this? I have filled in a number of psychological scales and determined my score on each: in 1996 I filled in the Rasch Australian Sheep-Goat Scale (a measure of belief in, and alleged experience of, the paranormal: Lange & Thalbourne, 2002), the Revised Transliminality Scale (Lange, Thalbourne, Houran & Storm, 2000, Houran, Thalbourne, & Lange, 2003) , the Launay-Slade Hallucination Scale (Launay & Slade, 1981), a fantasy-proneness scale (Myers, 1983), and the Absorption Scale (Tellegen & Atkinson, 1974). These variables, their theoretical ranges, the scores for the author, and the percentage scores higher than the author’s score in the sample, in order of magnitude, are displayed in Table 1.

[Insert Table 1 about here]

I score very high on paranormal belief, transliminality, and hallucination-proneness, high on fantasy-proneness, and normal on absorption. I suggest that the combination of these traits may make it more likely for me to experience hallucinations “as real as real” (Wilson & Barber, 1983, p. 340).
But what is at the back of the process, determining what I see? Ironically, something I wrote 12 years ago may supply the answer:

Subliminal states thus conceived of are sometimes responsible for the more-or-less modified contents of a memory-archive, and sometimes comprise the process that appears to actively constellate and present material to consciousness in an intelligent and sometimes novel fashion. In the case of dreaming, the latter function has sometimes been called the Dream Architect. More generally, we suggest that it might be referred to as the choregos function, choregos being Greek for the person who conducts a choir, choreographs a dance, or arranges for the production of a theatrical performance such as a drama. (Thalbourne & Delin, 1994, p. 21).

The appearance of the peacocks, after having forgotten about Julius Caesar, and dredging up a relevant memory from the past, is perhaps the best example of my choregos function in action.
So, in summary, I conclude that I have a very active choregos function, which, especially when aided by after-images and the low blood pressure produced by inhalation of nitrite, gives rise to illusionary or hallucinatory experience, of a visual character, both pictorial and of motion, which are extremely compelling and which lead to my deduction that I was observing features of the real world when in fact it was an imaginal world. In future, therefore, especially when confronted by apparently anomalous phenomena, I must take seriously the hypothesis that I am seeing what my subliminal consciousness is in fact responsible for, catering to deep-seated biases of thinking, such as that near-death experiences reveal what follows death, that matter is alive, and that psychokinesis is possible. Other users of nitrite have reported to me that they do not experience hallucinations, and therefore I suggest that the phenomenon may be personality-specific.

American Psychiatric Association (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (fourth ed.). Washington, DC: Author.
Houran, J., Thalbourne, M. A., & Lange, R. (2003). Methodological note: Erratum and comment on the use of the Revised Transliminality Scale. Consciousness and Cognition, 122, 140-144.
Lange, R., & Thalbourne, M. A. (2002). Rasch scaling paranormal belief and experience: The structure and semantics of Thalbourne’s Australian Sheep-Goat Scale. Psychological Reports, 91, 1065-1073.
Lange, R., Thalbourne, M.A., Houran, J., & Storm, L. (2000). The Revised Transliminality Scale: Reliability and validity data using a top-down purification procedure. Consciousness and Cognition, 9, 591-617.
Launay, G., & Slade, P. D. (1981). The measurement of hallucinatory predisposition in male and female prisoners. Personality and Individual Differences, 2, 221-234.
Myers, S.A. (1983). The Wilson-Barber Inventory of Childhood Memories and Imaginings: Children’s form and norms for 1337 children and adolescents. Journal of Mental Imagery, 7, 83-94.
Tellegen, A., & Atkinson, G. (1974). Openness to absorbing and self-altering experiences (“absorption”), a trait related to hypnotic susceptibility. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 83, 268-277.
Thalbourne, M. A., & Delin, P. S. (1994). A common thread underlying belief in the paranormal, creative personality, mystical experience and psychopathology. Journal of Parapsychology, 58, 3-38.
Wilson, S. C., & Barber, T. X. (1983). The fantasy-prone personality: Implications for understanding imagery, hypnosis, and parapsychological phenomena. In A. A. Sheikh (Ed.), Imagery: Current Theory, Research, and Application (pp. 340-387). New York: Wiley.

Table 1.
Comparison of the author’s scores on various variables, compared with a large sample (N = 242).
Variable Score % above
Belief in, and alleged experience of, the paranormal (8.13--43.39) 33.12 7.0%
Transliminality (-2.47 to +2.83) 1.41 8.8%
Hallucination-proneness (0-12) 7 11.1%
Fantasy-proneness (0-44) 27 24.0%
Absorption (0-34) 20 57.0%

Exp Year: 2006ExpID: 57090
Gender: Male 
Age at time of experience: Not Given
Published: Dec 21, 2007Views: 19,017
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Inhalants - Nitrites (147) : Alone (16), Retrospective / Summary (11), HPPD / Lasting Visuals (40)

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