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From: (Mindtoo755)
Newsgroups: talk.politics.drugs
Subject: Why We Get High by Bruce Eisner....Comments wanted on manuscript
Date: 25 Feb 1995 09:06:03 -0500
Message-ID: <3indgb$>

Why We Get High

By Bruce Eisner

Almost all of you  have gotten "high."  You might call it "getting stoned"
or "tripping" or "having a session" or "going on vision quest" or
"partying" but the urge to switch channels  and move to another and less
usual state of consciousness is as old as our species itself.  Actually
the quest for intoxication is even older !

Ronald Seigal, in his book, Intoxication,  documents numerous animal
species and most of the various human cultures that strive to get high or
as he calls it, to intoxicate themselves.  Seigal proposes  that after
food, drink and sex, "Intoxication is the forth drive." He demonstrates 
through zoological and sociological evidence, that the urge to get high is
among the most basic of motivations. 

Andrew Weil MD and Wilfred Rosen, in their wonderful introductory book
from Chocalate to Morphine, explaining psychoactive drugs for the young
reafirms this idea.  They point out:
 Human beings it seems, are born with the need for periodic variations in
consciousness.  The behavior of young children supports this idea. 
Infants rock themselves into blissful states, many children discover
whirling or spinning, is a powerful technique to change awareness. 
Infants rock themselves into blissful states, many children discover that
whirling or spinning is a powerful technique to change awareness, some
also experiment with hyperventilation (rapid deep breathing) followed by
mutual chest squeezing or choking, and tickling to produce paralyzing
laughter.  Even though these practices may produce some uncomfortable
results such as dizziness or nausea, the whole experience is so
reinforcing that children do it again and again, often despite parental
objections. Since children all over the world engage in these activities,
the desire to change consciousness does not seem to be a product of a
particular culture but rather to arise from something basic.  As children
grow older they find that certain available substances put them in similar
states. The attractiveness of drugs is that they provide an easy quick
route to these experiences.

Many drug users talk about getting high.  Highs are states of
consciousness marked by feeling of euphoria, lightness,
self-transcendence, concentration and energy.  People who never take drugs
also seek out highs.  In fact, having high experiences just as laughter
and dreaming seem to be necessary to our physical and mental health. 
Pehrphas that is why a desire to alter normal consciousness exists in
everyone and why people pursue the experiences even though they are
sometimes uncomfortable side effects.

Most of us do it, but how many have you have asked what I believe is a
fundamental question: "Why do I get high." Certainly many of us would be
better off if they asked this question each time they set about taking a
mind-changing compound.  Culturally and as a species, we must also ask
this question in its collective sense, "Why do we get high." I believe the
urge to get high is essential in nature and that in the future -- it will
shape the evolution of our species.  While I don't propose to have the
complete answer to this enormous question, here are some of my thoughts.

Let's begin by looking at some of the most extreme or intense states or
goals of a number of mind  (and matter) changing technologies including
lucid dreaming, psychedelic drugs,  virtual reality, sensory  deprivation,
near-death experiences and nanotechnology.  In each of these experiential
phenomena, there is movement from the structured experience of the ego as
it filters the world of consensual, well-boundaried reality into
experience which is less structured and with less defined or even no
boundaries at all.

Stephen LeBerge's outstanding book, Lucid Dreams, first popularized
perhaps the most incredible dream experience imaginable, lucid dreaming. 
Lucid dreams occur for some people rarely and other more frequently and
others not at all. They are dreams in which the dreamer "wakes up" while
still dreaming and can then begin to change the dream as he or she likes. 
There is a tremendous of freedom that accompanies this experience, in that
it empowers the dreamer to create any experience they desire. Certainly
this lies at the far edge of the domain of dreaming which also encompasses
dream analysis and dream journals.

In the realm of consciousness change catalyzed by the major psychedelic
drugs, of which there are many, the most common being LSD. Mescaline and
the sacred mushroom of Mexico,  users debate which experience is the
"highest" ranging from experiences of what Stanislav Grof calls the
"metacosmic void"  and "supracosmic mind" experiences of  transcendent
awareness to Terence McKenna's  vision of machine elves babbling about 
the end of time in the year 2012.  What is most psychedelic explorers
report though as their most profound experiences are those in which the
"tripper" can loosen the boundaries to the point of creating whatever
experience he or she wishes.  They may experience this as a fast moving
collection of experiences or "realities."  Tim Leary calls the measuring
quotient of this psychedelic stream R.P.S. -- "realities per second."  

While recalling Timothy Leary,  we should remember that it was the
venerable philosopher of the psychedelic world that introduced many of us
to virtual  reality (VR). Virtual reality is the experience of a 
simulation of reality induced through sensory apparatus driven by a
computer.  VR had it's birth with the military but has found its way into
commercial applications including amusement parks in Silicon Valley, where
youth flock to play computer games that use helmets and gloves instead of
video screen and joystick.  

The cyberpunk genre of science fiction, including authors William Gibson,
Bruce Sterling and Greg Bear have collectively created a future in which
virtual reality travel into vast computer networks become a way of life.
Non-fiction  books as well, including those by authors Howard Reingold,
Myron Kruger and Brenda Laurel all point to a future VR technology in
which humans interact in a "cyberspace" environment completely created by
computer simulation.  G. Harry Stein in his non-fiction book, The Silicon
Gods even speculate that we will be able to put on non-evasive helmets
with links between the brain and computer  directly with the brain,
skipping body suits and gloves entirely.  Brett Leonard's film Lawnmower
Man tells the story of an evolving VR technology that synergizes with
biofeedback and nootrophic drugs that permit its pioneer explorer access a
reality that allows him access the electronic nervous system of earth,
freeing him from the constraints of his body --  and his humanity.

As in lucid dreaming and psychedelic exploration, the goal in VR  is the
freedom to create and to explore realities without bounds. It's  goal may
be achieved sometime in the early decades of the new Millennium.

In the mid-Sixties, scientist John Lilly MD. build the first sensory
deprivation tank while working on a National Institute of Mental Health
(NIMH) sponsored project in the Virgin Islands.  Sensory deprivation is,
as the name implies, a state in which all of our normal senses are
virtually restricted.  Earlier studies had shown that experimental
subjects would report hallucinations when confined in rooms with no
stimulus for several days. 

Lilly build a coffin like tank that circulated salt water at body
temperature and which included a lid that shut out light and sound.  In
salt water, humans float and so taking having a sensory deprivation
session is often times called "floating."  

Lilly's excursions into the tank confirmed earlier reports of
hallucinatory mental journeys while in sensory deprivation.  Perhaps it is
no coincidence that NIMH has also handed John Lilly some LSD --with
instructions never to take it alone.  He told me, in an interview in 1971,
that the reason for this was that another researcher had taken it alone,
and had to be rescued when he thought that his heart had turned into an
coo coo clock and was striking the hour.  

Lilly ignored the warnings and his experiences and resultant mapping of
consciousness as revealed by sensory deprivation and psychedelic compounds
 became the subject of a number of his books including the Programming and
Metaprogramming the Human Biocomputer, The Deep Self, Center of the
Cyclone and his recent second autobiography, John Lilly...So Far published
in 1991 by J.P. Tarcher and Company.  In each, sensory depravation
experiences, with or without powerful augmentation by large does of
Ketamine or LSD, became a way in Lilly was able to "Fix a hole where the
rain gets in and stops his mind from wandering," as the Beatles once sang.

Another fascinating area in which the consciousness is freed to take new
direction has been reported by people having Near Death Experiences (NDE).
 These are people who have had a close brush with death, but survived. 
The reports from these individuals traverses a wide range of experiences
and are reported on in books by Raymond Moody and Kenneth Ring. Like the
other experiences we have considered, these NDE experiences free one up
from normal worldly constraints and  provide for a much wider range of
experience than we enjoy here on Planet Earth.

One last "consciousness-changing" technology that I will mention is purely
theoretical -- nanotechnology.  Nanotechnology as a popular notion was
first popularized by Engines of Creation by Eric Drexler.  It suggests
that as robot machines become smaller and smaller, eventually we will get
to the point where they can reconstruct the world according to
instructions given by humans.  By manipulating subatomic particles, these
robots can do the work that chemists do but without the usual barriers
that chemistry presents us with.  The result is that material reality
itself can be reconstructed.

Certainly, psychotherapy as is it currently constituted is an art more
than a science..  One thing that became clear to me.  Psychotherapy seems
to change it's language and theoretical framework every few years.  New
buzzwords and truisms quickly become adopted by the members of the
psychological profession.   For one cohort of psychologists, early
childhood development is the "cause" of all their patients problems,  A
few years later, a new generation of psychologists proclaim that only the
present moment should be talked about.  Then later, the pendulum swings
the other way. Therapy and it's parent psychology are in their early
infancy in understanding and controlling the human mind and nervous

Transpersonal experience and other altered states of consciousness 
induced by  hypnosis, mediation, guided imagery, psychoactive compounds 
and a variety of other means of inducing  are certainly part of a the
repertoire of a small minority of current psychotherapists.  These
psychotherpists and psychiatrists  feel more akin to the shaman of tribal
cultures or peSome nanotechnologists speculate that eventually, we can
reconstruct ourselves through nanotechnology aided genetic engineering and
the  material world according to our specifications.  We may learn  shape
the world as a sculpture shapes a statue.

Why do we do it?  What is the purpose of human experience, whether
intentional or accidental, which thrusts us into new and unfamiliar
realities.  Certainly these other modes of conscious experience  are not
all pleasant, which is perhaps why Huxley named the sequel to Doors of
Perception, Heaven and Hell.   Yet like the microscope or telescope do, 
they allow us glimpses into parts of the universe and ourselves that we
previously did not know existed.  It is only through this relativistic way
of viewing reality that we can get a inkling of what it the fabric of life
is really all about, because we gain views an perspectives.

Geting high also challenges the very fabric of mind.  The classic
psychological theorist Freud, called these kinds of experiences
"regression" in service of the ego.   According to Freud, these mind
adventures are excursions into the realm of the id or infantile awareness
for the benefit of the adult personality.   Jung disputed this view,
stating that these experiences were spiritual in nature and helped us to
get in touch with our collective unconscious in the same way that
psychotherapy helped us get in touch with our personal unconscious.  It
was left for contemporary psychological theorist Ken Wilier, a to explain
the relationship and finally reconciles these two polar vies.  Eye to Eye:
 the Quest for a New Paradigm,, Wilber hat Freud and Jung have staked out
territories on both sides of what he calls the "pre-trans fallacy."This
fallacy, to capsulize Wilber,  is that there is a great deal of confusion
when looking at altered states of consciousness and individual growth. 
This confusion is between experiences which transcend the ego and those
that are regression from it into more primitive or less evolutionary modes
of functioning.  

Transcendental experience is  experiences that go beyond the ego but also
continue of maintain and  encompass the ego.  Transcendental experiences
are based upon the solid foundation of life in the world or  "chopping
wood and carrying water" as the Zen Buddhists  put it.  For those with no
strong foundations, altered states might lead downward into more primitive
and barbaric states of mind-- "the pre" portion of the "pre-trans" split..
 Thus the warning should be given, make sure that when you reach for the
sky, your feet be planted firmly on the ground. 

The key point that is made, and affirmed by both Freud and Jung also, is
that the development of the ego is an absolutely necessary requirement for
healthy human functioning.  In the  transcendence of the ego   it is
important that the experience be given time and space to be reinvigorated
in ordinary life, or the person becomes "spaced-out" not capable of
functioning in the world.  And if we weren't supposed to function in the
world, what are we doing here anyway.?

If you still find all of this hard to understand, then the key to the
confusion is in the term ego, which has as many meanings as love or God or
any of those other confusing words people are always trying to define.  In
the '60's, we talked about "ego-death" as the ultimate act of mind.  John
Lenin once commented that after reading the Psychedelic Experience and
taking acid a few hundred times, he didn't even realize who he was or that
he had written all of those great songs for awhile.  

But "ego-death" no matter how intensively experienced, always leads to
"ego rebirth."  And why shouldn't it because the ego is not some bad ducky
thing that has to be disposed off.  It is the vehicle which allows us to
travel through life.

 We also link ego with egotistical, as the person who is always patting
themselves on the back verbally in front of others or putting on airs. 
But having a strong ego in the psychological sense doesn't have anything
to do with that either.

Father of self-actualization theory Carl Jung believed that in as a person
becomes self-actualized, that first there needs to be a healthy ego
developed.  But then, after it's development takes place, then there is a
turning away from "ego-centeredness" toward the development of the self,
of which the ego is only a part. He called this process

The question of why do we get high translates  into why do we want to
transcend our ordinary awareness and what is it good for anyway?  

Ron Seigal never actually tried to account for the reasons for his "forth
drive"  Andrew Weil and Winfried Rosen listed a variety of reasons for the
high,  These included:  to aid religious practices, to explore the self,
to alter moods, to treat disease, to escape boredom and dispair, to
promote and enhance social interaction, to enhance sensory experience and
pleasure, to stimulate artistic creativity and performance, to improve
physical performance, to rebel, to go along with peer pressure, and to
establish a unique identity.

In writing my book, Ecstasy: The MDMA Story, I was forced to face the
question of why people get high head on, with respect to one drug in
particular, MDMA or Ecstasy as it is popularly refereed to these days.  I
came up with four primary reasons I found that people use this enormously
pleasant (for most) psychoactive compound.  These were:  therapeutic,
creativity-enhancement, self-actualization and recreation.  Ws examine
each of these in terms of the more general question:  why do we want get

rhaps the gurus  or teachers of India (although I doubt many
psychotherapists would accept the term willingly) then to their
colleagues. They view their role as helping client get in tune with their
own unconscious by serving as guides on their life's journey. 

In tribes, the shaman or medicine man  would usually take a plant drug,
often a psychedelic, and go on a vision quest where they would enter into
alternative realities in which they could heal members of their tribes or
perform other kinds of magic.  

 In the modern version of shamanism practiced by transpersonal therapists,
the individual in search of healing is usually given the psychoactive
medicine, whether it is plant derived or one of the new and powerful
synthetic compounds and is guided on their own vision quest.  The modern
shaman does not usually take the psychoactive medicine with their clients
(however a small percentage do).  But every one of these new breed of
healers has to have experience with mind-changing medicines themselves
before they can lead others on their journeys..

Here, the goal is to have the medicine enter into alternative states of
consciousness where they can gain insights and visions to help them in
their ordinary lives.  Certainly there is no agreement on the exact
mechanism by which they achieve this purpose but many U.S. Government
sanctioned studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of psychedelic
therapy.  Psychedelic therapy which uses a one or a few high dose
psychedelic sessions aimed at producing the transpersonal experience, has
been demonstrated to be useful in the treatment of alcoholism, severe
neurosis ,heroin addiction and the trauma of terminal cancer, in a series
of studies conducted mostly in the "Sixties and 'Seventies. 

In the mid Seventies to mid Eighties, therapists took advantage of the
lack of illegality of a more gentle psychoactive compound, MDMA
therapeutic sessions aimed at less severe disorders. The experiences
produced by MDMA or Ecstasy as it is popularly called these days involve
much less sensory distortion than those produced by the major psychedelics
such as LSD.  

MDMA helps individuals to access a state of consciousness in which they
their existence in the world as different.  People report that the
external world seems brighter, more perfect, lighter than usual.  They
also find it easier to open up with other and express their real feelings.
 Inwardly, they feel more relaxed, their self-esteem increases and they
feel a lifting of the pressures of time.

In therapy, MDMA has been used successfully in marriage and couples
therapy, post traumatic stress disorder and in trauma produced by terminal
disease.  Again, the new breed of shamans uses their clients experiences
in an alternative state of consciousness as a means of healing. 

Both the major psychedelics, MDMA, marijuana, which some consider a minor
psychedelic and even stimulants and narcotics have been used in the quest
to enhance creativity both in the arts and in problem solving.

The Beats, with their excesses and excursions into the realm of drug
induced creativity, were not the first but certainly now the most well
known and respected of those who experiemented with the written word while
"high."  In fact, it was the Beats who invented the word.  Allen Ginsberg,
William Burroughs and Jack Kerouc, now three of the most respected
literary figures of the Twentieth Century smoke marijuna almost as a
relegion as well as dabling in writing while on peyote, LSD, the opiates
and ampetamine.

 Peter Stafford, in his first book, LSD-The Problem Solving Psychedelic
documents a the last study done before LSD was made illegal.  Conducted by
Willis Harman, the current head of the Institute of Noetic Sciences and
then at the Standard Research institute, small doses of mescaline were
given to engineers who were then given assignments to develop an
alternative to the record player for reproducing sound.  The CD wasn't
born that day but certainly the unique solutions proposed by this
engineers illustrates the way that mind-changers shift your view, allowing
for the emergence of natural creativity..

Later, Oscar Janiger, founder of the Albert Hofmann foundation, had his
LSD subjects paint a Indian doll before and while under the compound. The
experiments yielded some fascinating paintings, some of which are worth
many thousands of dollars because the subjects have become famous artists.

Ecstasy too had has it's artistic adherents.  A study of creative writing
was done during MDMA's grace period before criminalization with at least
promising anecdotal evidence of success in increasing creative output.  

In creativity, as in the previously discussed use in therapy, the
mechanism is the entrance of the individual into another state of
consciousness where they might have an  insight, have a feeling, see a
vision, hear a voice or get a unique perspective which they then bring
back to the world to express in pictures, words or music.

Psychologist Abraham Maslow, who we introduced earlier, coined the world
"self-actualization" to describe the next import use of intoxication. 
Maslow gave birth to new schools of psychology, which he called
"humanistic" and  "transpersonal."  A major theme in humanistic psychology
was that psychologists should study healthy and exceptional people rather
than only those with mental problems.  Up until then, abnormal psychology
was THE psychology  Instead, he saw a continuum starting with those who
were mentally ill through the range of more normal individuals and ending
with the "self-actualized" individual at the other end.  

These self-actualized individuals were those exceptional people in our
society who came up with the great theories. reduced exceptional novels or
art works, were the leaders and successful business men and so forth. 
These were the people whose lives Maslow thought we should examine.  Along
with Jung's notion of self-realization, this idea of self-actualization
marked a new direction in human consciousness, one that had roots in the
myths and religions of cultures around the world but which until then had
been mostly ignored by western science.

During the past half century, there has been a sure of interest in the
spiritual search as many call this new direction.  Ram Dass, whose life's
work and teaching on the spiritual journey has made him one of the most
popular lecturers in America, notes that on his trips though the U.S..
when he talks about spiritual experience, he finds that the crowds have
changed.  In the "Sixties and though much of the "Seventies, it was the
young Boomers, the Children of the "Sixties who came to see him.  

But more recently, the audience has become more diverse. Not only do the
Bombers come but people from many generations and all walks of life.  When
talking about a very profound experience, Ram Dasx noticed a old woman
nodding knowingly in one of his Mid Western lectures as he described his
Himalayan mind adventure.  Later, the woman came backstage and Ram Dass
asked her how she know about experiences such as he was describing.  She
smiled back at Ram Dass after the question and said, "I crochet."

Experiences called Spiritual of course did not start with Ram Dass or
Maslow or LSD.  They go back to the earliest of recorded history through
which  certain individuals  have reported mystical experiences including
saints, artists and many happy individuals.   These have been documented
in works like Huxley's Perennial Philosophy and Bucke's Cosmic
Consiousness. What is remarkable is that was once refered to  by Western
mystics he "beautific vision" has been translated by moderns into "getting
high."  But the experience remains largly  the same.

The vision quest like our earlier  discussions of excursions from the
mudane for therapy or creativity is a process.  The individual seeks to
experience states of consciousness beyond the ordinary and to bring back
that vision to help guide their own life and inspire the lives of others.

The last category of uses which I discussed in my book is currently the
least socially sanctioned but perhaps the most important.  That is the
recreational uses of getting high.  Again, one can go in two directions
and certainly it must be acknowledged that there are those who should
never try a mind altering substances and many who abuse them with
destructive consequences.  

Peter Stafford, in his article in the  Journal of Psychoactive Drugs
special issue, "LSD in Retrospect"notes, "Adapotation of the term
"recreational" by the government has about it the connotation that such
experiences are rather trivial, frivioulous and/or or a rather vulger and
lower order nature.  In fact however, the impressions conveyed by most
individuals engaged in such activities with LSD seems to have been to the
effect that the consequences have been of a higher order.  The bulk of
those responding have repeatedly indicated that they thought that their
use of LSD has been among the most important experience of their lives and
that the drug's effects have been re-creational. {author's italics].

Stafford's transformation of "recreation" to "re-creation" is not
elaborated on but I believe that it is essential to the understanding of
what I consider the primary significance of drove  to get high.  This
basic urge has as it's underpinnings, the desire to recreate ourselves as
we wish to be rather than how the seemingly random events of life molded
us.  Certainly many developmental theories recognize that although endowed
at  birth with certain potentials, we are in a way "programmed" by our
experiences.  Whether you follow the eastern schools and call it
liberation or the western and call it personal growth, psychoactive drugs,
most specifically those considered mind-expanding have been part of the
repertoire developed.

A noted psychologist once commented that humans might better have been
called Homo Ludens than Homo Sapian.  Homo Sapian means thinking man.
while Homo Lundens  names our species playful man.  He argued for the
later term because while every one of the more developed animal species
plays, humans play for a much longer proportion of their life span than
any other creature with the exception perhaps of the wales and dolphins,
which some may argue play their entire life.  

Most of use don't realize it but play is essential for learning and
growth. Play is a highly creative behavior in which we act out our
fantasies.  By doing so, we learn many of the behaviors which grow more
complex and evolve into our "grown up" culture and civilization.

In fact, the philosopher Alan Watts when discusing the heights of
Vaspasana Hindu insight he has expereienced through psychedelics and
medicatation in his work, The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You
Are described the entire evolution of the universe as the hindu term Maya
or play.  What is all of this play for, what is it good for.  The answer
that he gave was that it is all art, like a good piece of musci or an
admired painting.   Consciousness evolves as way of the universe
appreciating it's uniqueness and wonder of playful creation.

We can get high for therapy, spiritual growth, pleasure,  creativity but
the key element that makes getting high so useful is that it allows us as
adults to play.  Externally, our relationship with others and the
enviornment changes and becomes more novel and experiemntal, internally,
we see consider our thoughts and emotions in a new light, or from a new
and "higher" level.  

My allowing us entry into this alternaitve state of consciousness which is
essentially more playful, it allows us to "deprogram" ourselves, rid
ourselves of habitual acts and stultified ways of seeing things. We try on
new behaviors and modes  of thought the same way an actor dons a costume
and mask.   This breaks us free of our earlier programming and allows us
to consciousnly choose to become who we want to be and to think what we

Often times, the mystical or spirtual experience is talked about in terms
of the individual expeirencing themselves as "god."  Instead of god out
there, god become located in ourselves as well as in everytihng else.  And
as we become god, we can "recreate" ourselves in our own image.

Those who write about mind-changing compounds have alwasy recoginzed this
core purpose of drug-taking.  Bouldiare called it entering an "artifical
paradise."  Peter Stafford referes to MDMA "mini-vacations."  And of
course the hippies in the 'Sxiteies when on LSD trip.  Their destination,
a place of magic and mystery, where they could  imagaine a better, more
peaceful world.A place where we can play.

Bruce e