ENLIGHTENING UP: Psilocybin, the hallucinogenic compound found in mushrooms like this one, has been found to produce meaningful personal experiences that study subjects compare to the birth of a child. Image: © iStockphoto.com / Laurie Knight
Editor's Note: Maria Estevez was 62 years old in 2006 when she participated in the second psilocybin study conducted by Roland Griffiths, a co-author of the Scientific American article on hallucinogens. The inspiration she derived from these experiences prompted her to write a yet-unpublished book about how it affected her life both during the study and afterward.
In this excerpt from One Kind of Knowing, quoted with permission, she recounts what occurred during the second and most intense of four experiences with the drug. The deeply spiritual quality of her perception of an inner light reveals how a shift in brain biochemistry can enable us to enter the realm of mystics and visionaries.
Mary and Matt, my guides, sat beside me on the couch at Johns Hopkins Medical Center to look at an art book until the psilocybin took effect. In only about fifteen or twenty minutes I knew I had received an active dose rather than a placebo. "I'm going down," I told them. On went the eye mask, the headphones, the blanket, and the blood pressure cuff, and I began to sink into another world.
The descent seemed even rougher than the previous time, a rattling, lurching, high-speed roller coaster ride straight downhill through tingling geometric shapes and tunnels of textured blackness. The music on the soundtrack exaggerated the eerie atmosphere and kept me wary. Once again the abdominal spasms started up as well. Chemicals washed over me in repeated waves, bringing hot sensations and a bad taste in my mouth. As soon as I managed to get stabilized from one wave, another would follow. The sheer number of these cycles suggested that this was a stronger dose than I'd had the first time.
However, there were significant differences that tempered the experience. Most obviously, of course, I had done this before. Although I found the descent the most challenging part of the journey, with its feelings of assault and helplessness, I recognized landmarks so there was a useful frame of reference. I remembered the feeling of falling and going through tunnels, I remembered the geometrics, and I remembered the music. In fact, the two Brahms pieces I had feared so much before just flew by while I was occupied with the rapid changes, and I didn't have time to be frightened by them. If anything, noticing that part of the soundtrack offered a bit of comfort – "Ah, yes, I know those bad boys!"
I also came upon another impression that I had forgotten from the first session, the sense of emerging into "rooms" or public areas in the blackness. Sometimes I seemed to be on the periphery of a large sphere, many stories tall, with a city-of-the-future feel to it, tiers of terraces around the edge and flying objects like space cars. For all I knew, this could have been a single cell – all sense of proportion was lost. I described this to Mary and Matt for their records.
Despite the strong effects of the psilocybin, I was able to keep in mind my intention to work with what was presented to me. Whenever my consciousness regrouped into my familiar identity, I mentally reiterated, "Tell me where we are going. I am willing to go where you take me." I was determined to remain as nonjudgmental as possible and to offer no resistance, as Dr. Griffiths had advised, even though I was apprehensive.
Before the session began that morning, I had asked various sources of spiritual inspiration, ranging from the Archangel Michael to Joel Goldsmith, author of The Infinite Way, to help me through the experience. Now when I silently called on them to come and be with me, I detected a sense of wry amusement as if they had been watching. "We are already here," they responded wordlessly. "It is you who are in our territory now." I told this to Mary and she too found it surprising. I felt the truth of their message, and it heartened me. This was my first encounter with other intelligence in an altered state.