Citation: Digger. "Analysis of Consciousness Changes: An Experience with Salvia divinorum (10x extract) (exp61129)". Erowid.org. Oct 27, 2009. erowid.org/exp/61129
This is going to be a fairly long, fairly in-depth analysis of the changes in consciousness that occur during a dissociative salvia experience, including a fair amount of psychological and philosophical argumentation. First, though, I think I should give a little information on the perspective from which I approached salvia. I'm a philosophy student at an ivy league college, specifically interested in the philosophy of the mind, including consciousness and perception. Since any theory of how the mind operates must account for everything the mind is capable of doing, abnormal psychological phenomena (such as hallucinations and fascinating things like synesthesia and inattention blindness) provide wonderful limit examples by which to test theories, if a theory can't make sense of such phenomena, then it is obviously inadequate.
Pharmacologically, salvia is unique in that it is a kappa opiod receptor agonist, distinguishing it from the 5-HT-2 serotonin receptor agonists that comprise most of the common psychedelics, including LSD, mescaline, and psilocybin, and the other so-called 'dissociatives' which are NMDA receptor agonists (such as dextromethorphan, ketamine, and PCP).
Now I would like to introduce some terminological distinctions. The term 'consciousness' is a bit vague because it can refer to so many different things. One sense is what I will call 'perceptual consciousness,' this refers to the sensation of being aware of a sensory stimulus. I will simply mention that finer distinctions can and must be made within the realm of perceptual consciousness to account for phenomena like unilateral neglect, in which the subject isn't aware or conscious of a visual stimulus in any familiar sense (he has no idea any visual stimulus is being presented) but it can be proven that his brain nonetheless has access to the information presented in the visual stimulus. There is also a lot of debate surrounding the concept of so-called 'epiphenomenal qualia,' a view which emphasizes a subjective experience in perceptual consciousness, there is, so the view claims, a feeling of 'greenness' associated with seeing something green. For our purposes, however, we'll ignore such distinctions, since we are only concerned with the kind of perceptual consciousness associated with hallucinations and other visual stimuli of which we are completely aware. In addition to perceptual consciousness, there is also what I will call 'introspective consciousness.' This refers to our sense of self, our unique identity.
Before describing the salvia experience itself (and keep in mind that I am only concerned with a full-blown dissociative experience), it will be helpful to discuss the process of dreaming, because dreams are the most familiar of all hallucinogenic experiences. Hallucinogenic dreams occur during a stage in the sleep cycle known as REM (or Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. We have both introspective and perceptual consciousness in our dreams, we are still the same 'person' as we are while awake, even if we find ourselves in completely different and alien circumstances, there is no fundamental change in our identity or sense of self during dreams. The only difference, and that shared by dissociative experiences, is that all the sensory information comes from within.
I use the term dissociative experience to refer to one in which a person is 'severed' from the external world, such that all sensorimotor interaction with it is blocked out, and the person has absolutely no interaction with the world around them, they don't see or hear anything around them. The only two routes to a dissociative experience that I know of are through NMDA agonism and kappa opiod receptor agonism, this account only applies to the latter, as I have never had a dissociative experience with an NMDA agonist. Psychedelic experiences, and, I would propose, although can't confirm, deliriant experiences, only alter our perceptual consciousness: the hallucinations that occur have to do with the way in which we perceive the world, hence the predominance of patterns and such in psychedelic trips.
My salvia experience began with approximately 30 seconds of rapidly intensifying psychedelic effects until I was plunged into a dissociative 'coma' (for lack of a better word), I remained in the dissociative state for approximately 3 minutes (according to external observers), and then, once I returned, there was another 2 or 3 minutes of gradually subsiding psychedelic effects, until I was left with an odd 'stoned' or 'drugged' feeling which subsided over the course of the next 10 or 15 minutes until I had completely returned to baseline after about 20 minutes. Although short in duration, the experience was incredibly exhausting, I was drenched in a cold sweat and had to lay down for the next hour and felt tired for the rest of the night.
The first thing I would say about the dissociative experience itself is that it is fundamentally inarticulable: words are simply inadequate to describe it, but Iíll try my best. The other important thing to understand is that the use of the pronoun 'I' to describe the experience is completely inappropriate: the rift in introspective consciousness was so great that it would be a mistake to say that the 'I' who was present during the dissociative experience is the same 'I' that is now writing this or that was present just before entering the dissociative coma. The best way I can describe it is to say that my subjective, introspective consciousness was seperated from the 'me' that is now writing this, and was transplanted somewhere else. It felt as if my consciousness has shifted from 'me' to a thought flying through space, or to some primordial plane of existence or something like that.
In any case, what was so amazing and terrifying about it is that, when my consciousness left 'me', it felt as if everything I had ever known about my whole life and existence was just like a dream, and illusion, a mere 'snapshot' in this new form of reality, and I gradually realized that that life that I had always known before was now gone forever. To use a modern reference, it was somewhat like the feeling Neo must have had upon awakening from the Matrix and realizing that everything he had ever known was just an illusion.
The difference is that Neo was still Neo: he still had the memories of the experiences he had had within the Matrix, he was still fundamentally the same person as before, all of my memories, everything I had ever known, was completely stripped from me, and I was left to ponder this new form of existence. I remember fighting it at first, trying desperately to return to the 'I' that I had always known, to go back through the rabbit hole as it were, but finally, as I failed and realized it was gone forever, I came to terms with my new existence, and those with me remember me saying 'I give up' (which really freaked them out apparently). I remember trying to form words, trying to say something, as I was fighting to regain my old identity, but I couldn't form the sounds properly, and all that came out was gibberish until this 'I give up'. In any case, after a few minutes (a few minutes in the 'real world', since while I was in this dissociative coma I had absolutely no conception of time, it could well have been an entire lifetime!), the room started to come back into view, and I remember the feeling of elation at returning to that identity which I had thought was gone forever.
Nonetheless, all I could do for the next 10 minutes is lay down and try to affirm to myself that I was 'back' so to speak, back to the 'real' reality, and that 'this' was what was actually 'real' and that what I experienced in the dissociative coma was just a hallucination. It was a terrible shock, really, having my entire identity thrust back into me after it had been ripped out of me, and it was psychologically exhausting trying to make sense of what had been thrust into me, trying to make sense of all my memories and trying to reestablish my identity.
In summary, I feel that this was both one of the most terrifying and one of the most enlightening experiences I have ever had, enlightening because I can think of no other process that so elucidates the nature of introspective consciousness, it has thus proved to be an invaluble experience, as it provides me with information about our consciousness that I would otherwise have no way of accessing. In addition, now, to the puzzle of how various physiological changes in brain states can result in changes in our perception (or, indeed, how a bunch of neurons firing off in the brain can lead to perception at all!), there is the added, and in some ways deeper, puzzle of how agonism of the kappa opiod receptor leads to such drastic changes in my introspective consciousness and my fundamental identity/sense of self.
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