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Observations placeholder

Ouspensky, P D - Talks with a Devil - On the effects of nitrous oxide



Type of Spiritual Experience


Ouspensky  experimented with a number of substances, including hashish, in an attempt to ‘speed up’ the mystical process. This is his opinion of the effects of nitrous oxide.

As you can see, he, like many others with poor perception recall and high reliance on memory, could not really remember what had happened.

On one occasion, when the gas brought him to a particularly vivid state, he grabbed a pencil and paper and wrote down what he believed to be the essence of the experience. The next morning he looked at the single sentence he had written, it said “Think in other categories”. He had no idea what he had meant by saying this.

The after effects of his use of nitrous oxide were also less than pleasant. Coming out of his transports, Ouspensky experienced something like a metaphysical hangover.

The strangest thing in all these experiences was the coming back, the return to the ordinary state." It was, he said, very similar to dying.

"Everything becomes flat, ordinary prosaic; the voice of the mysterious and miraculous . . . falls silent and seems no more than a foolish invention. You notice only the discomforts - the ridiculous and unpleasant sides of everything and everybody. The mirror loses its lustre and the world seems universally grey and flat…………So little remains. I remember so vaguely what I have experienced.…"

In the end Ouspensky turned away from the ‘quick fixes’ and looked for more solid and satisfactory mechanisms, which is when he turned to Gurdjieff

A description of the experience

Talks with a Devil – P D Ouspensky
The new state of consciousness gave at once so much that was new and unexpected, and these new and unexpected experiences came upon me and flashed by so quickly, that I could not find words, could not find forms of speech, could not find concepts, which would enable me to remember what had occurred…… still less to convey it to anyone else....

 In search of P D Ouspensky – Gary Lachman
Ouspensky felt an immense frustration at his inability to hold onto anything of what he had seen. His experience ran through his fingers like sand.

 “What good are these sudden flares and illuminations if the world I glimpse during them immediately becomes obscure?”

Between Ouspensky on his grim, wooden mornings and Ouspensky the voyant there seemed to stretch an impassable desert. He had seen something - of that he was sure. But exactly what? Having cut his moorings on the everyday, he found himself adrift in the infinite. His mind, finely honed and razor sharp, was a poor tool for grasping the import of the powerful emotions that rocked him. The rush of feeling proved too strong, too fast for words to grasp. What could he remember? Was it a dream?

Ouspensky concluded that for all their value as revelations of the possible, nitrous oxide and hashish were too elusive and uncontrollable to offer much more than a brief view of the mountaintop. In any case, if a man could go mad from one ashtray, a steady diet of the infinite would surely prove too much. Once again, the idea of schools came to him. If esoteric schools existed, then perhaps he might find one, and there find a teacher who would show him how to control these new, exciting states of consciousness. He would start on a long journey, he told himself.


The source of the experience

Ouspensky, P D

Concepts, symbols and science items


Inner speech


Science Items

Activities and commonsteps



Inhaling nitrous oxide


Cannabis and marijuana