Thursday, 9 August 2012

DMT (3) DMT & Dreaming

Iona Miller (2006), who describes herself as a ‘free radical’ and ‘multi-disciplinarian’ and bases much of her theory of DMT and dreaming on the work of Strassman, states that DMT is implicated in the wild imaginings of our nightly dreams; near-death phenomena (NDEs); alien abduction experiences; and dream yoga. It is also a source of visionary phenomena in therapy, such as unusual psychophysical states attained in waking dreams, shamanic or psychotherapeutic journeys. Synthetic and botanical DMT crosses the blood-brain barrier and bonds to the same synaptic sites as serotonin. These theories are backed by psychedelic chemist, Sasha Shulgin, who claims: “DMT is everywhere.”

Miller claims that each night in dreams we experience an essentially psychedelic state – again, corroborating Strassman’s theory. The principal difference between dreams and hallucinations is the way the stages of wakefulness are organised, with the suppression of REM sleep and the intrusion of PGO waves in the arousal (waking) stage and in NREM (or deep) sleep.

Miller cites the work of Sabom (1982), describing the stages as including: waking (arousal) stage, stage of PGO waves, hallucination stage, sleep stage and hallucinatory manifestations. The waking dream eliminates ‘residues’ stirred up by the PGO wave pattern in the absence of REM sleep. According to Sabom, these visions resemble those at the approach of death, or what are called near death experiences (NDEs). In another context, they are perceived as visions. They include the characteristics of two phases of NDEs:
  1. The Autoscopic phase includes (a) subjective feeling of being dead; (b) peace and well-being; (c) disembodiment; (d) visions of material objects and events  
  2. The Transcendental phase includes (a) tunnel or dark zone; (b) evaluation of one’s past life; (c) light; (d) access to a transcendental world, entering in light; (e) encounter with other beings; (f) return to life.

Researchers at the University of Berkley, California produced a paper, Visions produced by dreaming and entheogenic drugs, in which it is stated:

The striking similarity of entheogenic experiences to dream experiences tempts us to seek answers as to whether the benefits of dreaming are potentially linked to the benefits of entheogens. The molecular action of visions produced by dreaming is quite possibly very similar to visions produced by entheogenic drugs. Carefully designed research could lend great insight into the mystery of dreaming, the potential therapeutic value of entheogens, and the potential for neurochemical advances... Entheogenic drugs and dreams alike have a special place in the evolution of humankind and its value systems. Profound musical inspirations and scientific discoveries of the past century have even been inspired by them. Our ancestors religious views and values were influenced by their faith in visions communicated by entheogenic drugs and dreams. In an age of environmental destruction and moral erosion, the knowledge afforded by dream and entheogen induced visions could not be more valuable. Let us hope that our culture is fortunate enough to open our minds and build on the mysteries our ancestors have explored for ages.

Callaway (1988) at the School of Pharmacy at the University of California, released a research paper, entitled A proposed mechanism for the visions of dream sleep, which hypothesised that:

The visions of dream sleep are suggested to occur through a dream mechanism which implicates tryptamine derivatives as endogenous psychedelics. The hallucinations that occur in some schizophrenic syndromes are also proposed to occur through a similar, though desynchronized, mechanism. These compounds occur in the human pineal gland and are regarded as neurotransmitters or neuroregulators. A protocol for experimental verification is suggested.

The following information is my transcription of some British documentaries on dreaming.

In the course of an average night, we spend 20 – 25 years asleep. Some scientists believe that the function of sleep is to allow us to dream. In the 1950s, scientists working in the newly emerging discipline of sleep and dream research conducted experiments to measure the electrical activity generated by the sleeping brain. They soon realised that sleep was not a time when the brain remained dormant, but rather, went it goes through a series of transformations and changes in brain waves, as evidenced on EEG brain scan recordings. It was not until around 55 years ago that neuroscience began investigating sleep and dreaming.  American sleep scientist Nathan Kleitman undertook a series of experiments, measuring brain wave activity. It was Kleitman who first coined the phrase ‘REM sleep’ and linked this state to dreaming.

Stage 1 sleep occurs as we begin to lose consciousness and fall asleep. Stages 2 and 3 sleep are deeper, and after 20 minutes or so, we enter stage 4, which is the deepest level of sleep, known as ‘slow wave sleep’ due to the slow, rhythmic patterns of ‘delta’ brain waves. After 90 minutes, brain waves change again – frenetic, jerky movements are recorded on brain scans, indicating a burst of mental activity, as if the person is awake. This is REM sleep.  Periods of REM sleep emerge with clockwork precision – at 90 minute intervals, throughout the course of the period of sleep. When early dream researchers experimented with waking subjects during the various stages of sleep, they found that the REM periods corresponded with the subject dreaming. Dream researchers rely heavily on waking memories of dreams, although changes recorded in brain activity whilst dreaming is taking place, are a reliable indicator of dream patterns. Even if dream reports are made as soon as a person awakes, the memories are only a distant version of the thoughts taking place during sleep. As soon as we awaken, significant changes rapidly happen in the chemical composition of the brain and the memory of the dream quickly slips away.

Dream, or REM, sleep also has another characteristic which sets it apart from the other stages of sleep. When in the stage 4 deep sleep period, although the brain is inactive, it is possible to move all the muscles of the body in similar ways to waking movements; those who sleep-walk and perform waking tasks whilst asleep always do so in deep sleep. However, in REM sleep, the body is paralysed – only the muscles in the eyes (the rapid eye movement) and in the chest (enabling us to continue breathing) are fully functional. This is ‘sleep paralysis’ – a state we enter every time we are in REM sleep, and essentially a protective mechanism – nature’s way of ensuring we come to no harm when we dream and proof that evolution has gone a long way to preserve the dream state. The foetus in the womb spends the majority of its time in an REM sleep – although sleep paralysis has not yet developed, presumably because the foetus does not require protection during dreaming. The movement of the baby in the womb during the final trimester of pregnancy is said to take place when the baby is in the REM state. Babies spend about 9 hours a day in REM sleep, but we are unable to ascertain when humans begin dreaming or when the neural networks are established and connected well enough to sustain the kinds of visual imagery required for dreaming. However, it is believed by some researchers that babies do dream long before they have the ability to communicate this fact. REM sleep is not confined to humans – it has been recognised in most mammals, although it is not possible to determine whether these periods of REM sleep are characterised by dreaming. Certainly, many animals display the same physiological markers of dreaming as humans – i.e. brain wave patterns; and twitching eye muscles. REM is not even restricted to advanced animals – the duck-billed platypus, the most primitive of all egg-laying animals, which co-existed with the dinosaurs has been found to have six times more REM sleep than a human. Some scientists believe that this may indicate that dinosaurs also experienced REM sleep.

Some experiments into dreaming in animals (typically dogs and cats) involved radical surgery to remove the areas of the animal’s brain responsible for sleep paralysis of the muscles, so that scientists were able to see the effect of REM sleep and dreaming on the physical body. They found that the behaviour of the cats in REM states, when sleep paralysis was disabled, was not at all random – but instead, very similar to waking behaviour, with the cat walking around and playing with toys. This allowed hypotheses that the cats were dreaming of the activities – or at least, similar acts, such as chasing or stalking prey – to those they were performing whilst asleep.

REM sleep, and the accompanying phenomena of dreaming, is universal. Does the fact that we all dream mean that it has some biological function or significance? Could dreaming be essential to our survival?

During the 1970s, a leading sleep researcher, Dr Rosalind Cartwright, came up with the idea of depriving a group of student subjects of their dreams. In this experiment, the subjects were woken after each period of stage 4 deep sleep, just as they were about to enter REM. The researcher found that the REM-deprived subjects – who were monitored throughout the day to ensure they did not nap - began to dream during the dream, whilst awake. There were reports of visual imagery intruding into wakeful experience – essentially- hallucinations. This indicated that the urge to dream was so powerful, that when deprived of REM sleep and dreaming, the mind will seek to compensate for this loss, even if this meant dreaming whilst awake. At the end of the experiment, the subjects were allowed to sleep normally, without interruption. Cartwright observed another phenomena – the subjects experienced prolonged periods of REM sleep – much longer than would be expected during an average night’s sleep. It was as if they were ‘catching up’ on lost dream time at the first opportunity – dreams happened earlier in the sleep cycle; were much longer; and were more exciting in content.

People who say they do not dream are wrong; they simply do not remember their dreaming. But if we need to dream – and it is not simply a random occurrence – then we must also ask, why? One British case study of 6 year old Robyn Jenkins, filmed by her parents who were concerned about her unusual condition. Whenever Robyn experiences any kind of emotion, she loses all muscle tone and collapses, meaning she has to try to avoid any excitement or stimulation. Robyn has an REM sleep disorder, called narcolepsy, which is the sudden intrusion of REM sleep into wakeful states at inopportune times. The balance between REM sleep and wakefulness is therefore defective. The loss of muscle tone which accompanies the sudden REM sleep in narcoleptics is known as ‘cataplexy’ – which is usually triggered by a strong burst of emotion. One British woman, Annie Everson developed narcolepsy in her 30s – and thereafter suffered 3 – 4 cataleptic incidents each day. Whilst she is in this state she says she can hear everything – and if her eyes are open, she is able to see, yet she is not able to respond to her environment – she is in a state of mixed consciousness. This state can also be accompanied by hallucinations – which make it very difficult for sufferers of narcolepsy to distinguish between their dreams and waking reality, which Annie finds problematic, stating that she ‘can’t stop dreaming’ even throughout her waking day. As many doctors are not familiar with the symptoms of narcolepsy, when patients describe visual hallucinations, the condition can often be misinterpreted as a psychiatric disorder, and commonly misdiagnosed as schizophrenia.

Scientists in San Francisco are currently attempting to find a cure for narcolepsy. Along the way, they may be uncovering some important clues about the function of dream sleep. At the Basic Research Centre for Narcolepsy at Stamford University, Dr Emmanuel Mignot keeps a colony of narcoleptic dogs, which are bred with congenital disorder. Narcolepsy is a genetic condition, which can be inherited – by finding and isolating the specific gene for narcolepsy, scientists may be able to determine if there is a cause or treatment. In humans, narcolepsy is normally triggered by positive stimulation, such as excitement or laughing. In dogs, narcolepsy is often triggered by the presentation of the dog’s preferred foods. Mignot believes that the malfunctioning REM sleep of narcoleptics may provide information as to how dreams work in the rest of us. As emotion is always the trigger, understanding is role could be key to unlocking the secret of REM. Different regions of the brain specialise in different kinds of thinking – by analysing the areas of the brain which are most active in REM it may be possible to determine how the brain is thinking. When the brain moves into REM sleep from deep sleep, it moves from almost total inactivity to a state of near frenzy, but during this intense burst of activity, one part of the brain remains soundly ‘asleep’, this being the frontal lobe – the most evolutionary advanced, sophisticated areas of the brain, responsible for logic and reasoning. Whilst this area of the brain is inactive, the limbic system – a more ‘primitive’ region comes to life. This ‘primitive’ region of the brain is responsible for emotional response – shut off from rational thought. This allows scientists to argue that dreaming is what keeps us ‘sane’ in waking life. There is an old adage – if you have a problem, you should ‘sleep on it’ and many people find that a source of anxiety or emotional trouble seems far less threatening or overwhelming after a good sleep.

Cartwright believes that the changes in mood which occurs during sleep are not accidental – but rather dreaming has a function in helping us to explore our troubling emotions and waking problems. In the first period of REM, the sleeping brain taps into this cluster of negative emotions and acts them out, or ‘dramatises’ them in the form of a dream; the first dream of the night is thus more likely to be emotionally disturbing. This ‘bad dream’ is only the first stage of the dreaming process – in the second period of REM the brain goes back to work on its emotional problems, exploring its memory networks in an attempt to find a solution to our emotional problems. As the night progresses, dreams become less disturbing, and by presenting us with our fears in a different light, they become less disturbing. We wake up with our mood effectively ‘regulated’ by the dreaming process, which automatically keeps us psychologically balanced, without any external help from the waking mind. Often it is unnecessary to interpret the subconscious meaning of these dreams, or even remember that that took place, but sometimes a person will suffer an emotional trauma which is too overwhelming for the mind to deal with by dreams alone. When this happens, we are unable to move beyond the first stage of the dreaming process, which becomes ‘stuck’. The emotional trauma, as dramatised in the dream, is repeatedly presented and revisited, without solution or resolution – in the form of a nightmare or disturbing dream. Repetitive dreams may represent an unsolved dilemma in waking life.

At the age of 21 years, Colette Donahue was raped by a man she considered to be a friend. Instead of trying to fight her attacker, Colette made unsuccessful attempts to placate him, fearing for her life. Several years later, Colette still feared men and had feelings of intense guilt for not trying to fight off her rapist. Her psychiatrist referred her to Cartwright due to her recurrent nightmares. She dreamt of being in a high-rise, overlooking a lake. She looks down from the window and sees a car on the drive, instantly knowing that the people inside that car were intending to rape her. She leaves the building and goes to a restaurant, where she talks to two women, thinking that it is so sad she will never see them again as she is going to be killed. She leaves the restaurant and walks along; when she sees the young waitress she had just been talking to standing naked, with her arms tied over her head, being tortured by the people. She thinks that the same thing will happen to her next. They come after her and she wakes up at the exact point it is about to happen to her. Colette had this nightmare for 15 years, beginning in the immediate aftermath of her rape. The female might change in the dream, but the scenario was always the same and the emotion attached to the dream was hopeless. When Colette first saw Cartwright, she reported waking up, drenched in sweat, 3 – 4 times per night. Cartwright was convinced that Colette’s dream was stuck in the first stage, forcing her to relive the rape, as her sleeping mind was unable to find a way to overcome this obstacle. Cartwright began with the premise that Colette would be able to ‘change her dreams’. Colette was sceptical at first, believing that she had no power to change her dream. Strangely, after a few nights, the dream did begin to change – what Colette had learnt from Cartwright in her conscious waking life began to ‘infiltrate’ her sleeping mind, without her having to do anything at all. Now, in the dream scenario, instead of attempting to placate her attacker, Colette would get angry and begin physically assaulting her attacker to defend herself. Once Colette had successfully fought back at her dream attacker, she was no longer subjected to the recurrent nightmare. Colette believes that changing the dream changed her waking life – she was able to overcome her fear of men and subsequently married.

Dreams therefore help us to overcome our deepest fears, but this may not be there only function. There is some research which questions whether dreaming can predict events which have not yet taken place. The case of ‘Rose’ was reported by a leading brain specialist. One night in 1926, Rose had a strange, terrifying dream of angels and statues. She herself had become a living, thinking statue made of stone. When she awoke the following morning, she found that her dream had become true – she had fallen victim to an epidemic known as the ‘sleeping sickness’. Apart from a few weeks in the 1960s, when she was briefly brought ‘back to life’ by the drug, L-dopa, she remained trapped in a motionless body for 40 years. There are many dreams reported which seem to predict illness for the dreamer. Dream specialist, Dr Patricia Garfield has worked with many subjects, including one woman who had dreams of frozen statue-like people. It transpired that she had developed a hyper-thyroid condition and her whole metabolism was slowing down. Another woman, who was pregnant at the time, dreamt that her mother had put her baby in the freezer; her baby was still-born. One woman had persistent dreams of wolves tearing at her stomach, and shortly after, she was diagnosed with stomach cancer. These accounts seem far-fetched or coincidental, but dream scientists believe there may be an explanation for such dreams. It is possible that the highly active brain notices changes in the body and its state of health before the conscious mind is aware of it. The unconscious mind then transfers this information about disorders in the body into the visual images of the dream state. Hippocrates (c. 460 BC – c. 370 BC), the ‘father of modern medicine’ always asked his patients about their dreams for this reason. It is very important, therefore, to pay close attention to any dream imagery connected with dangers to the body.

One man’s unconscious mind was able to detect changes in his body, even though his waking, conscious mind was non-functional. Towards the end of 1990, Jeffrey Lean, a reporter with the Observer newspaper was admitted into hospital for routine surgery. During the operation, there were unexpected complications and Lean fell into a coma. Now recovered, he reports that during the coma, he found himself in a dream-world, sometimes completely black and other times, completely white. The black world was completely black and the white world was rumpled – like creased bed sheets. The other part of his experience was a very long, intricate dream sequence. Lean was profoundly unconscious and had no way of knowing what happened to him. Nevertheless, his dream began to reflect the physical changes he had undergone. Much of the dream was about being paralysed and voiceless. One part was being in a clinic in the South of France for voiceless people and Mrs Thatcher was there, she having also lost her voice. Lean as a journalist, and voiceless, was unable to speak to her and ‘get the story’ thus making him frustrated. In another scene he was in a theatre seat, paralysed and unable to get up. Many times he experienced being wheeled around in a bed – one time through northern Canada, where the bed broke down, leaving Lean close to death, knowing he would be soon left outside to die. After four weeks, Lean began to regain consciousness, and once awake found that his dream had come true – he was paralysed (quadriplegic) and unable to speak (he had a tracheotomy in his throat). Before his routine operation – to correct a twisted bowel – Lean had been a healthy middle-aged man. When he awoke from the coma, he was in a terrifying state of ill-health, but strangely he felt relatively calm and at ease. He puts this down to the fact that his dream had prepared him for the condition he found himself in upon waking. Lean has since made a full recovery and although a sceptic, believes his dream served a vital function. The work of dream researchers such as Cartwright demonstrates that without dreams, we might lose our psychological health. However, there is one aspect of Lean’s story which is unexplainable. Coma is a state in which conscious thought is considered impossible; coma patients never open their eyes and so never see their surroundings. In his dream, Lean saw his wife and they spoke. She said: “Do you think you will make it?” and Lean replied: “I don’t think I can”. His wife said something positive to him, but he remained unsure so she suggested they ask a doctor to which Lean agreed. Suddenly a doctor appeared at the end of the bed and made a reassuring suggestion. Lean turned to his wife and said he would ‘give it a go’. Upon waking from the coma, Lean was surprised to see that the doctor was Dr David Treacher – identical to how he appeared in Lean’s dream. He had never met Dr Treacher prior to waking to waking from the coma.

When you share information about a dream they have had it is (if they report it accurately) something about them that they have not ‘faked’. It is the workings of their subconscious mind. One brain disorder has enabled scientists to possibly understand more about the dream state in humans. Tom Kersley, a British man developed a strange condition when he retired from his job. He began to act out his dreams and there was one in particular which made him particularly energetic – where he is trapped in a field by a high fence, surrounded by cows which come towards him, nudging him. During this dream, he will shout and thrash around in his sleep, causing chaos, which does not wake him. This rare condition was diagnosed at ‘REM sleep disorder’. Dr John Shneerson of the Papworth Hospital is an expert in this unusual field of sleep science. He says that the condition will usually start off with small movements which only slightly disturb a sleeping partner, but will gradually evolve into such violent bursts of physical movement that the suffer is  eventually forced to sleep alone, in an environment akin to a padded cell, for their own safety. This disorder is caused by a progressive destruction of part of the brain stem, known as the pons, which is responsible for controlling the muscle movement during REM sleep. Sometimes this disorder is a precursor to Parkinson’s disease. In serious cases, the sufferer will often act out highly vivid dreams. One of the functions of the pons during REM sleep is to turn off the messages from the brain activity to the muscles of the body and therefore REM sleep disorder is invaluable for researchers wishing to witness the sleeping brain in action.

Erica Harris is a ‘new breed’ dream scientist, working alongside Professor Patrick McNamara at Boston University, a leading establishment in the field of dream science. She measures the brain waves of her subjects whilst sleeping, by electrodes attached to his body. The experiment aims to show how dreams play a central role in our emotional wellbeing. The subject is allowed to sleep for an entire cycle of sleep – and is woken from non-REM sleep. Sleep scientists have always thought that non-REM sleep is an insignificant period in the sleep cycle, but the new breed of dream scientist has made a groundbreaking discovery which turns traditional theories of dreaming on their head – apparently we may also dream during non-REM sleep. Indeed, when Harris’ subject is awoken from non-REM sleep, he reports having a dream. The other startling new finding is that the two dream worlds – non-REM and REM – are fundamentally different. The subject undertakes a mood questionnaire – completing words from three given letters, which indicate his current emotional state. McNamara and Harris found a significant difference in that there was an increase in positive feelings about self when woken from a non-REM dream. When awoken from REM sleep, the subject completed the mood questionnaire, this time giving results displaying a negative feeling towards self. McNamara believes that this finding can be explained by an ancient structure of the brain, the amygdala, which is linked to our emotions. He speculates that we have more negative emotions during REM dreams, because during REM sleep, the amygdale – which handles intense negative emotions - is highly active. McNamara argues that persons with chronic depression have more REM sleep than non-depressives; they go straight into the REM state during sleep, and remain in this state for prolonged periods of time – often at the expense of restorative, deep sleep.

Professor Mark Solms of the University of Cape Town, studies people who do not dream – for example, stroke sufferers. One case study is Heather Jones – who stopped dreaming after suffering from a stroke. She describes a ‘blankness’ during sleep. Heather’s stroke caused neurological damage to a part of the brain known as the parietal lobe, which Solms believes is responsible for dreaming and combining the different senses. This loss of dreaming has debilitating consequences – Heather was able to fall asleep easily, but did not get ‘good quality’ sleep, with several disruptions during the night, leaving her exhausted upon waking. Heather recovered her ability to dream upon making full recovery from her stroke. The disruptions to Heather’s  sleep were found to happen at times when REM sleep would normally take place, leaving scientists to question whether dreaming fulfils a function of keeping us asleep. It has been found that the part of the brain responsible for motivation is activated during dreaming. Solms argues that this may offer a further explanation for dreaming; dreams have some form of ‘motivated search;’ in this, which may be represented by the content of the dream. This ‘seeking’ activity may represent the search for answers or solutions to problems, supporting Cartwright’s theory of dreaming.

This still leaves the question – do dreams actually mean anything? Dreaming is possibly the most fascinating area of psychological enquiry into the human mind. The importance of dreaming is universal and remains central to many cultures, for example the Attikamek tribe, who reside on the banks of the Saint Maurice River valley of Quebec, in the forests of northern Canada. Interpreting the meaning of their dreams is at the very core of the tribe’s beliefs, and has a healing function. Dreams are shared each morning in the ‘Dream Circle’, and the elders use the knowledge of folk lore to offer possible interpretations.

Under Freudian theory, it was believed that dream content was made up of symbols from the subconscious mind, which required interpretation to understand their latent meaning. In Montreal, Canada, scientists have begun using mathematics in attempts to interpret the meaning of dreams. Dr Antonio Zadra argues that the content of dreams tells us much about how the brain processes various information. He works in the ‘Dream Laboratory’ at the University of Montreal, collecting volumes of recorded dreams, which translates into a mathematic value, which is then inputted into a spreadsheet, enabling Zadra to calculate how many times a subject dreams of certain content, such as sex. Whilst the database may be unable to explain collective patterns of dreaming, it is of interest when analysing the individual, by comparing their dream records of a subject’s recurrent themes against the mass of collective dreams. Zadra believes this method enables him to determine what the individual’s dreams mean. One subject, a 48 year old professional male recorded a dream about his wife, B. In the dream the subject and B are in the kitchen, making breakfast and brewing coffee, but when the subject looks over at the coffee maker it was overflowing over the counter and would not stop. B was yelling “What did you do? What did you do?” He tried unplugging the machine and removing the glass container, to no avail. The subject’s mother arrives and he is inconsolable. His mother kept telling people that it was his entire fault. It was loud, and he tried to defend himself.  Zadra identified the recurrent theme in the subject’s dreams as being misfortune. A further dream from the same subject involved him and his wife getting stuck in snow, where he was unable to get the car to work. In fact 80% of the subject’s dreams had themes of misfortune, compared to the average middle-aged man (as per Zadra’s database), where this theme is approximately 30% of dream content. Additionally, the majority of dream characters in the subject’s dream were female, with frequent negative interaction. Zadra argues that these patterns display conflicts over relationships and a lack of control. Five years after these dreams were analysed, the subject and his wife were divorced. Zadra’s research also showed that when dreaming about sex, women only dream of sex with their partner in a fifth of their dreams, whilst men dream of sex with their partner in a sixth of their sexually-themed dreams. Women dream of sex with celebrities twice as much as men do. Around one third of our dreams tend to focus on negative themes, with Zadra’s database demonstrating that dreams are far more transparent and reflective of our waking concerns and preoccupations that previously thought.

Dreams do not simply have ‘meaning’ but have also been instrumental in some very significant cultural, scientific and artistic moments in history. For example, the structure of the periodic table of chemical elements apparently came to the Russian scientist Dmitri Mendeleev (1834 – 1907) in a dream. In 1844, American inventor Elias Howe was attempting to invent his first sewing machine, but was unable to work out how to get the needle to hold in place. One night he dreamt of being attacked by savages holding spears, and just as he was about to wake in terror, he noticed that the spears had holes in the pointed tip of the spear – bringing the realisation that this was how the needle could be held in place within the sewing machine. This ability to harness dreams to solve problems or find inspiration is not simply the preserve of genius, but can be learnt by most people, by using dream incubation and brain entrainment methods, which are described elsewhere on this Blog. It may be possible to learn whilst dreaming, as suggested by Professor Robert Stickgold, who devised an experiment to test his theory of how dreams affect learning. He gets subjects to play a video game – typically a downhill skiing simulation. Once the subjects are asleep, they are awoken during the night to report on any dreams they experience. Stickgold found that whilst, in earlier dreams, the subject’s would tend to dream of the video game, their later dreams would draw on other memories – one subject reporting walking through snow in his dream , and seeing footprints left by someone else. The subject found that walking in these footprints made it easier to cross the snow. Stickgold asserts that his findings show a clear link between dreaming and memory – the brain makes associations and finds similar ‘helpful’ memories which may allow the subject to ‘learn’ from their dream. Stickgold found that following a night of dreams, the subjects’ performance in the video game was greatly improved. Stickgold advocates, not merely focusing on the manifest content of the dreams, but that we should dissect them to analyse the underlying messages.

Finnish scientist, Dr Antti Revonsuo of the University of Turku, Finland, believes that nightmares may have an important evolutionary function, and without them, we may not be able to survive. He suggests that dreaming is biologically programmed into our brain – the same brain we share with our ancient ancestors. Revonsuo collects records of nightmares – in particular those of children. According to Revonsuo, children’s dreams of nightmarish animalistic monsters, signal that these themes were inherited from our ancient ancestors as a survival mechanism, preparing them from the struggles and conflicts of waking life.  The simulation of threatening events teaches vital survival techniques for when confronted with ‘similar’ stressful events in waking life. Adults tend to have more ‘modern’ or ‘real’ nightmares – showing how the brain adapts to waking events, creating a dream language which corresponds to conscious concerns. Revonsuo believes that the line between dreaming and consciousness is not represented by a bright-line; rather, when we are awake, we may still be ‘dreaming’, but our perceptions are shaped by input from external stimuli, whilst in dreaming, the same processes occur in the brain, but in the absence of stimulus from our environment, we create dream content from within the subconscious mind, to ‘illustrate’ or ‘dramatise’ the activity of the brain during sleep. The crucial area of dream science when considering boundaries between consciousness and dreaming is undoubtedly lucid dreams. The leading scientist in this field is Stephen LaBerge of the Lucidity Institute in California, who began studying lucid dreams in the 1970s, after experiencing lucidity in his own dreams. Traditional dream science denied the possibility that the mind could be fully conscious during the dream state and LaBerge set out to prove this theory wrong, designing an ingenious experiment in which he asked subjects to move their eyes from left to right if they were able to perceive a flash of light during their sleep. During REM sleep LaBerge flashed a light in the faces of his subjects and found that they were in fact able to move their eyes in response. LaBerge now holds workshops in Haiwaii, conducting experiments and teaching his techniques of lucid dreaming to amateur oneironauts. He believes understanding and harnessing the power of dreams has some therapeutic value and can be beneficial for personal and social integration; and overcoming personal problems and traumas.

As we know, anthropological studies suggest that human cultures have used natural substances to induce ‘dream visions’ for thousands of years in religious or ritualistic ceremonies. These substances were ingested as religious sacraments and the partakers believed that "God was in the plant or that God communicated though the plant" [or fungus]" (Farthing 1992; McKenna 1992). Similarly, various cultures have had a fascination with the significance of dreaming, often believing that dreams are ‘messages from the gods’ and may offer premonitions of the future. Numerous dreams are referred to in the Bible and most are of this transcendental or illuminatory type (Farthing 1992). Neurochemical knowledge of some ‘visionary’ substances has shed modest light on their mysterious actions on the human brain. ‘Entheogenic’ refers to drugs which provoke ecstasy [flight of the soul from the body] and have traditionally been used as shamanic or religious inebriants (Ott 1996). The term (as first coined by Dr R Gordon Wasson, Professor Carl Ruck and Jonathan Ott in 1979) means ‘realising the divine within’ and is preferable to hallucinogenic or psychedelic for the purpose of this discussion for several reasons. A hallucination is a perception-like experience that the individual interprets as real, although it has no objective counterpart. Users of entheogenic drugs will more likely experience pseudo-hallucinations where objects of perception are altered, not created, and/or the user knows that the vision does not exist objectively. If the user is aware that the drug is causing the ‘vision’, then the percept is by definition a pseudo-hallucination. True hallucinations are possible, but rare, from ingesting normal doses of entheogenic drugs and renders the term ‘hallucinogenic’ rather misleading. The term ‘psychedelic’ carries such heavy connotations to images of western civilisation's drug use of the 1960's that it is hardly appropriate to use it as a blanket term for the wide array of entheogens used for thousands of years in religious ceremonies. Modern science has identified some of the active components of such sacraments, which has provided for limited research opportunities. Scientific research on these substances is currently very restricted by the U.S. Government's social, political and law and order agendas. Additionally, scientific dream research has been very limited due to its inherently subjective nature and reliance on dreams being reported by subjects after the event. Subjective reports on both dreams and entheogenic experiences, however, are empirically useful in this area of research. When coupled to our molecular knowledge of dreams and entheogens, similarities between the two states surface. Further research on entheogenic compounds coupled to dream state research will offer scientific advance in the study of dreams as well as cultural advances in understanding the value of entheogenic substances for therapeutic and religious use.

It has been suggested that the first entheogenic substance use in humans took place through naive ingestion of psychoactive mushrooms. This is theorised due to mushroom's fit of the probable criteria of the first enthogenic substance: a reasonably small dose needed for inebriation; geographic presence in Africa at a time when all humans resided there; a lack of any needed purification or preparation; and a potential presence in climatic regions that also supported human life. It has been suggested that humans moved into the grasslands and encountered hoofed beasts which became their source of food. The entheogenic mushroom grew on the dung of these beasts and was likely explored by humans as the man and beasts evolved together. Since that time, entheogenic mushroom use has spread throughout the world (McKenna 1992). Recent accounts suggest that entheogenic drugs taken in the correct environment grant users insight into the possibility of human existence in dynamic equilibrium with their environment (McKenna 1992). If it is true that early users were granted special insight into dynamic co-existence with their environment, it is likely that the powerful perspective the entheogens afforded its users offered them an evolutionary advantage over the ‘unenlightened’ humans and thus played some role in human evolution (McKenna 1992).

Numerous entheogenic substances have been adopted by various cultures throughout history, but this discussion will focus on the action of natural entheogenic mushrooms, peyote, morning glory seeds as well as the purified molecules from such sources and their synthetic analogues (such as psilocybin, psilocin, dimethyltryptamine (DMT), lysergic acid amide, lysergic acid diethylamide, mescaline etc), otherwise known as the ‘indole derivatives’ (tryptamines) and the phenethyamines. Entheogens entered the Western world's history books when entheogenic mushrooms were first denounced by the Spaniards after conquering the Aztec empire. The Aztec term ‘Teonanacat’ means ‘flesh of God’. The Spanish believed the Aztecs received the Devil in Holy Communion through the mushroom ceremonies. Western society (and the Catholic Church) persecuted the people who partook in the holy sacrament, but the use of the entheogenic mushrooms persisted, however, and was reintroduced to the Western world through Wasson's publication in Life magazine in 1957 entitled "Seeking the Magic Mushrooms" (Wasson opposed the title) (Ott 1996). A second attack on entheogenic drugs, this time mounted by the U.S. government, culminated in the Controlled Substance Act 1970. The Act outlawed entheogenic drugs (among others) and curbed scientific research with the substances. The act was heavily motivated by cultural agendas and public policy rather than by potential dangers of the drugs, suggested by scientific evidence. The setback in research was devastating as neurochemical studies of such compounds offer far clearer scientific data than studies of dreams alone.

‘Sleep mentation’ refers to all conscious mental events that take place during sleep (Farthing 1992). Dreams, however, have more extensive qualities. A dream is a subjective experience, occurring during sleep, that involves (a) complex, organised mental images that (b) show temporal progression or change (Farthing 1992). This is to differentiate dreaming from static mental images or thoughts that may occur spontaneously throughout sleep but are not characterised as dreaming. In one early study by Aserinsky and Kleitman in 1953, 740 subjects, awakened in REM sleep, reported dreaming compared to only 110 subjects awakened from non-REM sleep. These findings have been consistently reproduced in research. While dreams occur in non-REM sleep, dreams are more vivid, more emotional, longer lasting, and better recalled during REM sleep stages (Farthing 1992; Solms 1997). Most people have limited recollection of dreams due to the lack of encoding from working memory (WM) to long-term memory (LTM) during sleep (Farthing 1992). This explains why we normally remember only one or two dreams per night despite an average of 4 - 5 dreaming periods during 6 - 8 hours of sleep. Dreams that are highly emotional or bizarre tend to be the dreams we remember most clearly. This is attributed to the fact that we awaken from them and commit them to LTM through waking recollection. We are most likely to remember dreams from the last REM period of the evening (Farthing 1992). If we were to encode all dream memories as strongly as waking memories the evolutionary effect might be disastrous. The inability to distinguish dreams from physical reality could wreak havoc on the maintenance of our physical health (food gathering, social relationships, shelter building, long-term tasking, etc.) The mechanism that inhibits encoding of dreams to LTM may have appeared as an evolution necessity of mammalian life. This still does not answer why we dream, but helps to explain why dreams have limited presence in our waking life. Dreams have a familiar quality where a reality is created complete with visual perception, emotions, and the perception of cognition. Items in the dreamer's memory, events from the day, and even environmental stimuli may influence the dream. While most dream content comes from the dreamer’s memory, elements of the outside environment may occasionally enter. For example, experiments where subjects were squirted with water during REM sleep overwhelmingly reported dreams including water when they were awakened (Farthing 1980). Additionally, we are all familiar with sleeping through an alarm clock or telephone ringing, which we have incorporated into our dream narrative. Dreams are generally composed of sensory qualities such as vision in colour, touch, hearing, and to a lesser extent olfaction and taste. Dreams maintain their presence in the dream world while accepting little input from the conscious mind (an exception, of course, being lucid dreaming), little output to the dreamer's memory, and only limited environmental stimulation. The apparent ‘reality’ and perception of emotions in dreaming, however, are extremely powerful (Farthing 1992). The emotional significance of entheogens may be their most profound effect. Wasson's literary capture of the intense emotional effects of the entheogenics is unmatched. He testifies to his first experience with entheogenic mushrooms in 1952:

It permits you to travel backwards and forwards in time, to enter other planes of existence, even (as the Indians say), to know God...What is happening to you seems freighted with significance, beside which the humdrum of everyday life seems trivial. All these things you see with an immediacy of vision that leads you to say to yourself, 'Now I am seeing for the first time, seeing direct, without the intervention of mortal eyes.' Your body lies in the darkness, heavy as lead, but your spirit seems to soar and leave the hut, and with the speed of thought, to travel where it listeth, in time and space, accompanied by the shamans last you know what the ineffable is and what ecstasy means. Ecstasy! The mind harks back to the origin of that word. For the Greeks ekstasis meant the flight of the soul from the body. Can you find a better word to describe this state? (Crahan 1969, cited in Farthing 1980).

In addition to the profound emotional effects described by Wasson, psilocine and psilocybine (the active components of entheogenic mushrooms), produce auditory, visual, and tactile alterations; profound synesthesia;  and ego dissolution (Ott 1996; Farthing 1980; McKenna 1992; Grinspoon et al 1990). The effects are similar to peak effects of LSD and mescaline,;cross-tolerance exists between the three; and it is thought that they act through similar brain mechanisms (Ott 1996; Farthing 1980; McKenna 1992; Grinspoon et al 1990). Entheogenic drugs such as LSD, psilocybine, and mescaline have four predominant perceptual features that suggest a common underlying mechanism of action as researched by Siegel and Jarvik (1975, 1977) during the systematic analysis of the visual aspects of entheogens (Farthing 1992). The first of which is form, which includes simple forms as well as complex meaningful forms, constructed from both memory and environmental input, similar to the varying degrees of sleep mentation.  Colours, movement (simple), and complex action patterns are the other common percepts of entheogen-induced visions (Farthing 1992). The perception of time may be drastically altered in both dream states and entheogenic states (Solms 1997; Farthing 1992; McKenna 1992; Ott 1996). The striking similarity of entheogenic experiences to dream experiences tempts us to seek answers as to whether the benefits of dreaming are potentially linked to the benefits of entheogens. The molecular action of visions produced by dreaming is quite possibly very similar to visions produced by entheogenic drugs. Carefully designed research could lend great insight into the mystery of dreaming, the potential therapeutic value of entheogens, and the potential for neurochemical advances. It has been well established since the 1960s that the entheogens act primarily through the serotonin (5-hydroxy-tryptamine, or 5HT) class of receptors. (Aghajanian 1994, Ott 1996). More recent findings have added that the phenethylamine (mescaline) and the tryptamine (psilocybine) entheogens act through a common pathway, namely, through highly potent agonist action at the 5HT-2 receptor (Aghajanian1994; Vollenweider 1998; Lyon et al 1988). The net effect is the relative activation of 5-HT2 subtype compared to all other 5-HT receptors. (Aghajanian 1994; Vollenweider 1998; Lyon et al 1988). It is the relative increase in activation of the 5HT-2 receptors that is primarily responsible for the altered perceptions and emotions that result from the entheogenic drugs in discussion (Aghajanian 1994). Serotonin has also been known for some time to play a role in sleep regulation. Numerous recent findings specifically implicate the 5-HT1 and 5-HT2 receptors in regulating sleep (Pastel et al 1993; Sommerfelt et al 1993, Tortella et al 1989; Sharpley et al 1994, 1990; Dijk et al 1989; Kirov et al 1995; Seifritz et al 1996; Loas 1991). Sleep studies monitoring the effects of selective 5-HT1 and 5-HT2 agonists and antagonists administration in humans and laboratory animals have had impressive findings, demonstrating that the post-synaptic stimulation of 5HT1A receptors suppress REM sleep and increase slow wave (non-REM) sleep in humans and laboratory animals (Seifritz et al 1996; Loas 1991). Additionally, recent evidence establishes that antagonists at the 5HT2 receptors caused identical disruptions in sleeping pattern (Pastel et al 1993; Sommerfelt et al 1993; Tortella et al 1989; Sharpley et al 1994, 1990; Dijk et al 1989; Kirov et al 1995). In other words, when the relative activation of 5-HT2 to 5-HT1 was reduced, REM sleep (where the longest and most vivid dreams take place) was suppressed. Therefore, the relative activation of 5HT2 pathways compared to other 5HT pathways is implicated in REM sleep activation. The subjective experience of dreaming is likely a result of that activation, much like the pathway responsible for the effects of entheogenic drugs.

Additional evidence implicating 5HT2 pathways in dream activation come from selective REM sleep deprivation studies. As stated before, vivid dreams may occur in any stage of sleep but the majority of long, detailed, vivid dreams occur in REM sleep. REM deprivation studies are as close as we have come to identifying the physiological need for dreaming in humans. In a pioneering study by Dement (1960) into REM deprivation, subjects were awakened when entering REM sleep and not allowed to return to sleep for several minutes (to ensure that subjects required full progression through the stages of non-REM sleep before re-entering REM). The experiment noted several interesting findings. The first of which was an attempt for the subject to enter REM sleep almost twice as often as control subjects, suggesting a drive or need to enter REM stage. A second finding is an REM ‘rebound effect’, or a large increase in total REM sleep time when subjects were permitted to sleep undisturbed after REM deprivation (Farthing, 1980). This data suggests a need for REM sleep but does not suggest what that need is. The most interesting findings are the symptoms of REM sleep deprivation (note that these subjects had full nights of sleep, but no REM sleep): anxiety; irritability; difficulty concentrating; increased appetite; and even (although rare) daytime hallucinations. Attempts to reproduce these findings, however, have had limited success. An explanation for this is that dreams take place in other sleep stages. As such, it is currently impossible to conduct studies on total dream deprivation. Let's consider the findings briefly with the understanding that the data is marginal and that very little dream deprivation data exists. In a separate study, mice lacking the 5-HT2C receptor experienced increased appetite and overeating, implicating the receptor in appetite suppression. (Tecott et al 1995). REM deprived patients also exhibited increased appetite; possibly due to the subjects' decreased activation of 5-HT2 pathways that would normally occur during REM sleep and vivid dreaming. The other mood disturbances could also be a function of under-activation of the 5-HT2 pathways. It is possible that the entheogens could prove useful in therapy to treat the mood disturbances that surface in REM-deprived patients. Anxiety, irritability and difficulty concentrating are common withdrawal symptoms from various addictions, suggesting the potential clinical use for entheogens in substance abuse treatment. Evidence for the clinical value of entheogens in treating alcoholism has been demonstrated (Ott 1996). The data at this point is admittedly modest. It is provocative enough, however, to encourage further research on the subject. The relaxing of legal restrictions on entheogen research would contribute to the collection of quality data on the subject. Dreaming studies that administer entheogens and other powerful 5HT-2 agonists should prove useful in explaining dream/entheogen induced visions. Additionally, methods that allow for complete dream deprivation studies and scanning studies that monitor the activity of 5-HT pathways while the subject is dreaming could prove useful.

Lucid dreamers may be valuable subjects in the study of 5HT2's role in dream-induced visions. Conscious awareness enters the dreamer's world during lucid dreaming: The dreamer is aware that he is dreaming, usually triggered by an especially unusual dream occurrence where the dreamer 'realizes' that he must be dreaming (by flying, breathing under water, etc) (Farthing 1992). Lucid dreamers often exert voluntary control over the contents of the dream and its direction, much like entheogen user. Some lucid dreamers have the ability to signal to experimenters that they are dreaming, usually through specific pre-established eye movements or fist clenches (Farthing, 1992) – see for example the description of LaBerge’s experiments on lucid dreamers, discussed above. This form of subject signaling from could allow researchers to identify neurochemical markers unique to dreaming, regardless of sleep stage. This knowledge could be valuable in labelled 5-HT scanning studies mapping the activation of 5HT2 pathways and regional differences in brain activity that are specific to dreaming, as opposed to the current and more crude measures specific to REM sleep. Research embracing advanced methods will likely continue to unlock the mysteries of the neurochemical mechanisms of both dreaming and visionary entheogens. The results of such research have profound potential for clinical treatments ranging from mental disorders to addictions as well as the advancement of our understanding of dreams.

We are all familiar with the experiences of dream induced visions. They vary in intensity and we are somehow prevented by neurochemical mechanisms from remembering and controlling them. Most people will find that with effort dreams may become easier to remember and easier to control (Farthing, 1992). Those who enjoy lucid dreaming add element of conscious power and control to sleep-induced, 5HT-2 pathway activation. The conscious control is essentially a cortical ‘breakthrough’ in the inhibitory mechanisms of sleep. Entheogenic drugs trigger visions of striking similarity to dreams through similar brain mechanisms. Entheogens allow for "visions" like those of dreaming with one crucial difference: The inhibitory mechanisms of sleep that prevent control of our dreams as well as prevent their recollection are absent. Entheogens induce the mental liberation of dream states while simultaneously permitting conscious control and environmental stimulation. Whereas in dreams one is afforded only modest environmental input (i.e. alarm clock) and modest control (some in lucid dreaming), entheogenic drugs allow dreaming with the conscious control, memory intact, and environmental cues as powerful as when awake. It is no surprise that many users of entheogenic drugs report the emotional significance, spiritual clarity, and dissolution of the common ego as a liberating and renewing experience. Entheogenic drugs and dreams alike have a special place in the evolution of humankind and its value systems. Profound musical inspirations and scientific discoveries of the past century have even been inspired by them. Our ancestors’ religious views and values were influenced by their faith in visions communicated by entheogenic drugs and dreams. In an age of environmental destruction and moral erosion, the knowledge afforded by dream and entheogen induced visions could not be more valuable.

Some scientists – including Strassman -  state that in early childhood, we are perpetually immersed in cascades of trance-inducing theta rhythms of the brain, with the feel-good chemical brew it creates for metaprogramming. Until roughly age 8 years, we can’t really distinguish between fantasy and reality, due to our own natural endogenous hallucinogen, DMT, (dimethyltryptamine). To explore his theory, Strassman conducted extensive testing, injecting volunteers with the powerful psychedelic, synthetic DMT (N,N-dimethyltryptamine; N,N-DMT). DMT is so powerful it is physically immobilising, and produces a flood of unexpected and overwhelming visual and emotional imagery. Taking it is like an instantaneous LSD peak. DMT crosses the usually impenetrable blood-brain-barrier, suggesting its fundamental role in consciousness. But, concluding his 5 year studies early, Strassman admitted despite their growth potential, there were no viable therapeutic or neurological applications and is clear that he does not recommend DMT for recreational use.

Strassman argues that DMT production may be stimulated, in the extraordinary conditions of birth, sexual ecstasy, childbirth, extreme physical stress, near-death, and death, as well as meditation. Pineal DMT (soma pinolin or ‘enodgneous DMT’) is also thought to play a significant role in dream consciousness. The pineal gland, or ‘Third Eye’ is suggested to be the ‘seat of consciousness’ with endogenous DMT acting as a chemical messenger linking body and spirit. Pineal activation awakens normally latent neural pathways. Serotonin or tryptamine levels are higher in the pineal than any other organ in the brain. 5-methoxy-tryptamine is a precursor with hallucinogenic properties, which has a high affinity for the serotonin type-3 receptor. Gucchait (1976) has demonstrated that the human pineal contains an enzyme capable of synthesising both DMT and bufotenine-like chemistry. These compounds are prime candidates for endogenous ‘schizotoxins’ and their production may be related to stress and/or trauma, that correlate with schizophrenia. Strassman notes that both the embryological rudiments of the pineal gland and the differentiated gonads of both male and female appear at 49 days. Melatonin is a timekeeper for gonadal maturation, so the pineal is implicated again. 49 days was also the period, according to Buddhism – which, like many Eastern cultures and religions, embraces the concept of the ‘Third Eye’ in their meditative practices, required for one soul to reincarnate into the next life.  Strassman suggests this rein-effect may be the root of the tension between sexual and spiritual energies, yang and yin. The pineal gland is a source of both psychedelic compounds and the gonads, sources of spiritual and generative immortality.
 Strassman (2001) states:

All spiritual disciplines describe quite psychedelic accounts of the transformative experiences, whose attainment motivate their practice. Blinding white light, encounters with demonic and angelic entities, ecstatic emotions, timelessness, heavenly sounds, feelings of having died and being reborn, contacting a powerful and loving presence underlying all of reality–these experiences cut across all denominations. They also are characteristic of a fully psychedelic DMT experience. How might meditation evoke the pineal DMT experience? Meditative techniques using sound, sight, or the mind may generate particular wave patterns whose fields induce resonance in the brain. Millennia of human trial and error have determined that certain “sacred” words, visual images, and mental exercises exert uniquely desired effects. Such effects may occur because of the specific fields they generate within the brain. These fields cause multiple systems to vibrate and pulse at certain frequencies. We can feel our minds and bodies resonate with these spiritual exercises. Of course, the pineal gland also is buzzing at these same frequencies...The pineal begins to ‘vibrate’ at frequencies that weaken its multiple barriers to DMT formation: the pineal cellular shield, enzyme levels, and quantities of anti-DMT. The end result is a psychedelic surge of the pineal spirit molecule, resulting in the subjective states of mystical consciousness.

Haycock (2011) suggests that the memory system has two codes of action (encoding/dreaming and accessing/waking) and that there must be a ‘switching mechanism’ to meditate between the two functions. Tarnow proposes that the dream state is initiated automatically when the brain falls below a certain threshold (this is the ‘Continual Activation’ theory of dreaming). Even if this is correct, the fact that modes of memory become disconnected from their usual states of consciousness, indicates that there is a distinct ‘switching’ taking place. Homeostasis and circadian rhythms are regulated by the release of neurotransmitters from the diencephalon. If dreaming does occur when brain activity falls below the ‘continual activation’ threshold, it is consistent with our understanding of neuroscience, to conclude that this drop in brain activity initiates the release of certain neurotransmitters. Haycock argues that this neurotransmitter most likely affects the serotonergic system. Serotonin is produced in the raphe nuclei, located in the pontine reticular formation, which is known to control circadian rhythms and initiate dreaming. The serotonergic system is implicated in sleep and serotonin receptors are found in all areas of the brain involved in dreaming. Haycock argues that the neurotransmitter in question is endogenous or pineal DMT, citing the work of Strassman in support of his theory. This theory states that the visual aspects of dreaming are caused by release of DMT by the pineal gland, which is activated during dream-states. Haycock goes further than Strassman, in suggesting that natural or pineal DMT may be responsible for carious psycho-sensory aspects of dreaming, consistent with psychological studies on dreaming. He avers that DMT is the ‘chemical switch’ which mediates between different states of human consciousness and initiates the cognitive mechanisms of dreaming, shutting of the waking memory, and activating the ‘dreaming’ version. He suggests that DMT is not a psychedelic drug, but rather than psychedelic drugs induce their effects by mimicking the actions of the neurotransmitters involved in the dreaming process. Haycock states that there are links between schizophrenia and DMT – schizophrenics have apparently been found to have higher levels of DMT in their blood and urine than other persons. Haycock does not provide empirical data of a source for this assertion, however. He also refers to a link between the two modes of action of the memory and two forms of hallucinogen: psychedelic and disassociative. Psychedelics trigger a subjective dream state, characterised by changes in perception and thought patterns, bearing a marked similarity to certain symptoms of psychosis; whereas disassociatives are thought to produce spontaneous out-of-body experiences; astral states and the subjective experience of ‘access dreaming’. Psychedelics of a similar type to DMT (psilocin is virtually identically in chemical structure) act on the serotonin receptor system to induce their psychoactive effects. Disassociatives, such as ketamine, nitrous oxide and dextromethorphan are known as ‘NDMA receptor antagonists’; NDMA is an excitatory receptor, initiated by glutamate. The disassociative state is characterised by a ‘disintegration of the ego’ – the central executive is inhibited through antagonisation of the brain’s excitatory system and the ego is ‘deactivated’. The person is not asleep however – they remain in a waking state, with the memory remaining in waking recall mode, with no loss of awareness. Therefore, the initiation of the ‘access state’ of dreaming is experienced as a form of ‘astral projection’. By contrast, during a psychedelic state, the ego remains intact and unified, albeit perhaps confused and derailed. The psychedelic state and the disassociative state thus both typify the psychotic state (the memory system is in dream mode whilst the individual is awake) and the access state (the brain is in recall mode whilst the individual is in a dream state) – insomuch as they are both circumstances when the ego is out of synch with the memory system. However, these states differ from schizophrenic disorder or true access dreams, as they are chemically induced by drugs, and the psychedelic experiences are not induced by natural DMT, but rather merely triggered by a similar correlate chemical. Haycock believes that the DMT experience has much in common with dream states, schizophrenic hallucinations and Shamantic experiences. Phosphene visuals, synesthesia and other psychedelic sensory effects are present, but the most overwhelming and intriguing aspect of the DMT experience is that it is believed to facilitate contact with other entities or beings, who inhabit a ‘psychedelic reality’. Another supposed element of the DMT experience is the linguistic overtones – users of DMT often describe an ‘alien’ language with which their thoughts are processed, or the bringing of ‘ideas’ and concepts into existence by a visual language. The overriding facet of the DMT experience is the ‘otherworldly’, often idiosyncratic nature, which users are often unable to attribute it to being a product of their own mind.

The general assumption amongst many DMT users is that they have entered a different realm of existence. Haycock says that this is impossible; the conscious cannot leave the body and move out into the external world. The notion that DMT enables the user to make contact with other entities inhabiting a different realm is not unique to DMT and indeed, is a fundamental aspect of Shamanic rituals throughout the world. Haycock compares the Shaman – partially and consciously emerged in an alternative reality with schizophrenics, who are involuntarily assaulted by anomalous hallucinations and distortions of reality and perception. Shamans use DMT to make contact with the spiritual realm, whereas schizophrenics apparently have higher levels of DMT in blood and urine samples. The perception of a world of intelligent beings and entities which is characteristic of dreams, schizophrenia and DMT use by Shamans, can be explained by pareidolia – the perception of significant patterns (in this case, anthropomorphic) in random data. Sagan suggests that humans are pre-programmed to perceive faces and bodies, as a form of biological and evolutionary advantage, useful for survival. Haycock believes that DMT stimulates the brain’s pareidolic circuits, intensifying the experience, therefore rendering sensory impression subordinate to perceptive impression. Thus, the brain on DMT magnifies pareidolia, so patterns are transferred into physical, conscious entities manifesting through reality. The fact that entities are often malevolent is also explainable – it is a greater survival advantage to interpret an unknown entity as hostile or threatening – which is something we also recognise in dreams, schizophrenic episodes and Shamantic experiences. Dream content – particularly that which takes place in REM sleep – is typically linked with negative rather than positive emotional perceptions and experiences. Pareidolia is located in the temporal lobe of the brain. Haycock states that every day events and occurrences have direct personal meaning and significance for schizophrenics which may mean that this is a manifestation of the dream state, in which all objects, events and symbols have personal meaning. Anthropomorphic pareidolia, where inanimate objects are perceived as having sentience, emotions or personality, is common in schizophrenia. Haycock goes so far as to state that animism is the default human mode of perception and the result of human tendency to find meaning by way of motive. If natural DMT is the chemical switch which moves the memory from waking to dreaming mode, then dream content may be the result of pareidolia. Surrealist artist, Salvador Dali (1904 – 1989) was known to use the pareidolic-critical method in order to tap into the subconscious depths of the mind. In this sense, paranoia is the irrational connections between sensory stimuli whereby such stimuli is not perceived merely as existing in external reality, but is also an extension of subjective self. The sensory perceptions, associations and resemblances are given primary over objective identity, with the result that the individual enters a flow of subjectivity in which the objective environment becomes a symbolic stream of consciousness. This is said to be a method of manually pushing the memory from waking mode into dreaming mode whilst awake. Sensory awareness is created by matching sensory input to stored archetypal templates; in a pareidolic state, the stored archetypal template takes precedence over sensory input. This happens during the dream state, where memories are matched to and stored according to perceptual similarity – the process of folding experience into a constellation around an archetype. The visual world of dreaming is created by lingual gyrus, which are responsible for identifying faces, landmarks and symbols/text – supporting a link between these things.  A delusional state is similar to the dream state in that perceptual templates take priority over sensory input from the external environment.

Haycock argues that the brain does not discriminate between sources of sensory input, but rather sorts through the masses of stimuli according to fixed rules about how to decode and construct the phenomenological world of colour, shape, distance, sound etc. The brain must therefore possess an innate set of rules for decoding sensory input, which Haycock suggests are archetypal in nature. The sensory world is therefore constructed by matching input to inbuilt archetypal patterns (genetic or ancestral memories of inherited representations of humanity’s evolutionary past). Neurologist, Racmachandran states that: “perhaps we are hallucinating all the time and what we call perception is arrived at by simply determining which hallucinations best conforms to the current sensory input”.

Haycock suggests that at the highest cognitive levels there is a tension between the reviewing functions of the ego and the imagination, resulting from the checking of predictive patterns against reality. Obsessive compulsive disorder may stem from an overactive reviewing function and what Haycock refers to as a hyperactive ‘over-ego’ with confabulation (the retrieval and articulation of bizarre, fabricated dream-like fantasies rather than actual memories) as at the other end of the spectrum – where the over-ego is hypoactive (I prefer the Freudian terminology of ‘super-ego’ which undoubtedly would be implicated in a Freudian analysis of OCD behaviours, which I assume would fall within the framework of an ‘anal conflict’ dominated by the super-ego). Conversely, dreaming involves a state in which the reviewing function and ego are relaxed and imagination is allowed to take dominance.

Haycock argues that there may be a connection between dreaming and the activity of the brain’s default network (i.e. sorting and storing memories); research has shown that the default network is active during sleep and dreaming. The precuneous is functionally and anatomically linked to the medial temporal lobe and episodic memory structures and therefore it may be possible that the precuneous is responsible for engaging and disengaging them. Haycock is keen to state that this does not mean that the precuneous acts as the chemical switch – the role he attributes to DMT, pointing out that we know that dreaming is triggered by the pontine reticular formation. The role of the precuneous during waking (building associations between memories; self-reflection; linking memories to identity) may be a clue to its role in dreaming. Alternatively, he says that it may be possible that DMT binds to the serotonin receptors of the precuneous, which then induces the neurological mechanisms of dreaming via the default network. Dreaming may have the function of finding solutions to our waking problems by accessing archetypal response patterns, via pareidolic magnification which allows the perceptive template to take prominence over sensory input from the external environment or the reviewing functions of the brain. However, this theory remains speculation.

No comments:

Post a Comment